Court rules in favour of Bell in VMedia dispute

In its decision, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice left the door open for the matter to be revisited in front of the CRTC.
Internet TV shutterstock_99918578

Bell Media has won its legal dispute with internet and cable TV company VMedia, after the Superior Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled the Toronto startup had infringed Bell’s rights under the Copyright Act by retransmitting over-the-air TV channels online through its VMedia TV service.

However, the court did leave the door open for the matter to be revisited in front of the CRTC in the future, with Justice F. L. Myers saying in his decision the Superior Court of Justice does not set broadcasting policy in Canada. The court’s role in the legal dispute was in determining how the existing law applies to the cases put forth by both Bell and VMedia, he said. “If technology has overcome the existing laws and policies, it is open to interested parties to put the issues before the CRTC to try to revise the policies,” his decision read.

Launched in September, VMedia’s service offered a skinny-style bundle for $17.95, which included Bell Media channels CTV and CTV Two. Bell countered that, as the owner and licensee of the copyright to those channels, its rights were being infringed. Bell sent a cease-and-desist letter on and legal proceedings began in October. Following the decision, VMedia has now discontinued the service.

The crux of the case rested on whether VMedia’s new service meant the company was acting as a “retransmitter” (a company that has a broadcast distribution licence and is legally permitted to retransmit signals, such as Bell and Rogers) or a “new media retransmitters” (which is not allowed, by law, to retransmit signals).

In the decision, the judge stated that “VMedia is carrying on an undertaking as a new media retransmitter under s. 31 (1) of the Copyright Act. VMedia’s new service does therefore does not qualify for the compulsory licence under s. 31 (2) of the Copyright Act which is only available to retransmitters who are not new media retransmitters.”

“We are of course surprised and disappointed by the decision,” said George Burger, an advisor to VMedia, in a statement emailed to Playback Daily. “Our new streaming service, made up, remember, of channels available to all Canadians without requiring permission, was the logical next step in live TV distribution,” he said.

In a statement issued following the decision, Bell Media reiterated its stance that services such a VMedia’s were an infringement of copyright law.

“We’ve said all along that the defendant was redistributing CTV and CTV Two signals outside of its broadcast distribution business and without our agreement, a clear violation of our copyright. The court agreed, confirming that internet distributors don’t get to use copyrighted content for free. They need to obtain necessary content rights as does Netflix, Amazon, or any other competitor in the category,” the statement read.

The court also ordered VMedia to pay $150,000 in costs to Bell due to the “aggressive business position” adopted by VMedia, and what the judge called the “hardball tactics of launching the service in the face of its own contract and such a clear legislative regime.”

Image: Shutterstock