Legal live-TV online?
December 30, 2010 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to create legal online service live-streaming over-the-air TV channels in US?

The over-the-air channels are available to anyone with an antenna, but would it be legal to create a web service live-streaming these channels?

In other words providing web version of basic cable (or antenna). The service provider would have an antenna somewhere picking-up the free channels and then server would convert them to live stream for online.

Assume no re-purposing, time-shifting or other interference with the content.

Also would this be location dependent? I.e. Boston channels could be shown to web users locally, but not to those in Dallas? Any sort of notice/ agreement required with the broadcasters?
posted by zeikka to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Retransmission rights are complicated, but the answer is basically no.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:39 PM on December 30, 2010

I doubt that. But look at this service (have to switch manually to English)
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:41 PM on December 30, 2010

No. You would have to specifically negotiate the rights to do that, and it would not be cheap or easy. Just because you can receive the channels for free doesn't mean the contents aren't copyrighted.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:42 PM on December 30, 2010

No, for the same reason that you couldn't tape songs off the radio and put them online. Copyright protects the content even if it's broadcast for free.
posted by decathecting at 5:04 PM on December 30, 2010

The content is only licensed for stations to air in specific locations.
posted by delmoi at 5:07 PM on December 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for quick responses. Do cable providers typically pay local broadcasters or are the agreements signed without monetary payments since the broadcasters want the widest possible audience within their licensed area?

I.e. would local broadcasters be open to web live-streaming since it's broadening their audience provided there's check for locality of the viewer?
posted by zeikka at 5:58 PM on December 30, 2010

Broadcasters are in the business of selling airtime to advertisers. The only way they can do that is through statistical sampling of viewers, i.e. Nielsen Ratings. Since Nielsen does not measure viewers on websites, you would not be increasing their effective viewership at all and thus you would have zero effect on their financial bottom line, so they would have no interest in talking to you. Moreover, broadcasters are not the rightsholders for the content they broadcast and they do not have authority to bargain away web viewing rights.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:21 PM on December 30, 2010

And, I meant to add: In the case where a broadcaster has negotiated the rights to stream a show online from the production company, they want to do it through their own site (e.g. you can go to and watch Desperate Housewives or whatever.) They paid for those rights, and they sell their own ad spots during that online viewing, and so if there were another site out there that was diluting that service they would want it shut down. The fact that your hypothetical service is also showing ads is meaningless because nobody is getting paid for them.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:47 PM on December 30, 2010

Oh, I actually was just reading about a US-based company, ivi, Inc., that's trying to do just that. They, of course, argue that it's legal, although that seems controversial.
posted by losvedir at 6:57 PM on December 30, 2010

Local broadcasters have the option of choosing either must-carry or retransmission consent in their dealings with cable companies. Most choose retransmission consent. In either case, control over what happens to a broadcaster's signal is a right given to them by the FCC.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:21 PM on December 30, 2010

Tricky business. The right answer right now is not, yet,"no". As stated above Ivi is testing the legal waters with respect to this. That will likely be the deciding case of whether this is legal or not. That being said the odds are against them. I'd put them at a 2:1 dog if I were a betting man.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:34 PM on December 30, 2010

I was going to say "no" instantly, but DiscourseMarker and bitdamaged got me thinking- the online service could work if it (somehow) became a bona-fide cable tv operator. To do so, it would probably have to restrict its users to only people in the marketplace of the broadcast stations, and probably must carry any other stations in the broadcast area that request it.
posted by gjc at 6:09 AM on December 31, 2010

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