The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has confirmed that watching pirated video streams online does not break any copyright laws.
The ruling comes via a legal battle between rights holders and European media service company Meltwater. Copyright holders including the Associated Press charged Meltwater with copyright infringement when the company extracted headlines from various news sources and sent these via email to users.
In an interesting twist, the media groups suing Meltwater, led by the U.K. based Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), also argued that users receiving these emails should be liable for licensing fees, an argument which led to this week's ruling.
Early court rulings initially favored the NLA, but the Supreme Court of The United Kingdom eventually ruled against the NLA, confirming that viewing copyrighted content online is not copyright infringement. The court cited existing EU copyright law which that temporary copies are given a specific exemption from copyright law. The court did refer the matter for further comment to the CJEU.
This week, the CJEU confirmed that the existing EU copyright exemptions for temporary copies applies to viewing and streaming online. Viewing or streaming, the court says, is different to making a copy and would be exempt from copyright laws, but the copies "must be temporary, that they must be transient or incidental in nature and that they must constitute an integral and essential part of a technological process."
While this ruling provides clarification on this issue, the ruling may anger rights holders who have in recent times devoted more resources in tackling the piracy problem caused by the increasing use of streaming services. It's worth noting that this ruling does not exempt operators of these streaming services from legal responsibility, only the viewers and users of these services.