TVs in the workplace and the risks of channel hopping

TVs in the workplace and the risks of channel hopping

The end of the line for illegal set-top boxes?

We are regularly consulted by clients who have received approaches from UK collective management organisations (CMOs), suggesting (in some cases very forcefully) that they require a copyright licence.

CMOs perform a valuable role in making sure that content creators and rights holders are remunerated fairly for the use of their works. However, they also tend to open their approaches to businesses with an assertion that a licence is definitely required, which is not always the case.

In recent times, the Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC), which offers licences to films and content on behalf of a wide range of film studio has been one of the most active CMOs.

MPLC’s increased activity stems from a change to the UK’s copyright regime in 2016 that removed “films” from the list of exceptions to copyright infringement for the free showing of a broadcast under Section 72 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Until that point if an organisation had not charged for admission (i.e. there was no paid entrance into the venue), then it would be able to show broadcasts that included films, subject to certain conditions, without infringing copyright.

The amendment to the legislation means even if a business or venue does not charge an entrance fee, they may still be required to hold licences (in addition to a TV licence) to show films that form part of broadcasts.

The most common scenario we have encountered is MPLC approaching businesses with a television in the building (ascertained by the fact they hold a TV licence) and suggesting that an additional licence from MPLC is required. Many clients have resisted these approaches on the basis that their televisions are used only to show rolling news channels or in-house content, but that is not a position that MPLC has readily accepted.

The position though is now clearer in light of updated UKIPO guidance. The guidance, which was released on 21 April 2023 and is available here, provides examples of when additional licenses may or may not be required, for example:

  • If you only show BBC News and Sky News channels, an additional license is not currently required. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that only the news is shown, for example, not allowing staff access to change channel.
  • If you have a commercial subscription to show exclusive subscription broadcasts, that subscription will act as a licence. If you have a commercial subscription to show live sports, that will only cover live sports and will not cover any other content.

So do you need an additional licence? Well, as with many things, that depends… however, the new guidance does provide welcome clarity that for many businesses who only display rolling news broadcasts in their reception areas, the answer is no.

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