Increasingly TV channels supplement their on-air broadcasts with publicly-accessible IPTV-service "broadcasting" the same content via Internet. For example, the impoverished (and war-torn) Ukraine has about 120 such channels with IPTV streams accessible to the anonymous public.

The viewing experience, however, is often subpar -- because of the Internet latency and other connectivity problems. So one could offer a useful service by continuously recording such broadcasts (keeping, say 1-2 weeks worth) and allowing people to access the (unaltered) recordings from his servers, which could be located closer to the particular viewer and have better bandwidth.

Would such a thing be legal, or will one need to obtain and maintain tedious prior approvals from each channel?

Note, I'm not talking about "premium" channels -- which wish to be paid for content and aren't available as IPTV (without encryption) anyway. Only the ones, that are already available for free to anyone, who lives close enough for their signal to arrive on his antenna, or has a decent Internet link to their server.

Note also, that I'd be perfectly willing to stop recording and "rebroadcasting" a channel, that decides to ask me to stop going forward. But I'm worried about suddenly becoming liable for retroactive damages...


2 Answers 2


In ABC v Aereo 573 U. S. ____ (2014), the US Supreme Court held that activity almost identical to what you describe is copyright infringement.

Respondent Aereo, Inc., sells a service that allows its subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet at about the same time as the programs are broadcast over the air. When a subscriber wants to watch a show that is currently airing, he selects the show from a menu on Aereo’s website. Aereo’s system, which consists of thousands of small antennas and other equipment housed in a centralized warehouse, responds roughly as follows: A server tunes an antenna, which is dedicated to the use of one subscriber alone, to the broadcast carrying the selected show. A transcoder translates the signals received by the antenna into data that can be transmitted over the Internet. A server saves the data in a subscriber-specific folder on Aereo’s hard drive and begins streaming the show to the subscriber’s screen once several seconds of programming have been saved. The streaming continues, a few seconds behind the over-the-air broadcast, until the subscriber has received the entire show.

We must decide whether respondent Aereo, Inc., infringes [copyright] by selling its subscribers a technologically complex service that allows them to watch television programs over the Internet at about the same time as the programs are broadcast over the air. We conclude that it does.

A nicer summary, oral argument transcript and audio are available from the Oyez Project.

In my opinion, your example is more clearly an infringement of copyright than Aereo's. Aereo dedicated separate antennae to receive a signals for each subscriber at the subscriber's direction, and rebroadcast the signal over the internet in near real-time. This let them argue two things: 1) that they were not performing the work, only letting other people perform it, and 2) that the performance was not "to the public". In your example, the server is receiving and saving the broadcast, and then later, that single copy is being reproduced and transmitted to whomever requests it. That would certainly be considered both reproduction and performance to the public.

  • So, were Aereo liable for past damages, or would they not have had a problem, had they ceased offering the particular channel(s), who didn't wish to be offered, upon receiving a cease-and-desist from them?
    – Mikhail T.
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 22:51
  • @MikhailT. Note that apparently, they refused to stop and went to court claiming that they had the right to do so. Also many sights have a copyright Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 23:05
  • @MikhailT. Yes. They ended up settling out of court for $950,000 out of a $99 million claim by the plaintiffs. There was no way they would have been able to pay more. This basically bankrupted them. The civil damages available in a copyright infringement claim are outlined at 17 USC §504. I can't really guess at whether the plaintiffs would have pursued a claim had Aereo stopped upon their first request.
    – user3851
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 3:22

Many sites have terms of service which restrict the use of their broadcasts. I know that they often make deals with places like Hulu but you would have to get in touch with each site to make a separate deal. For example NBC.com says:

Permitted Uses

Your use of the online services shall be limited solely to your personal and non-commercial use.

Note that the legalese is very long, but this is an adequate summary.

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