The phenomenon of Internet television is rising many controversies among the supporters and owners of traditional corporate TVs, because of the potentially devastating changes it might provoke in the mass media world. The unstoppable growth of the online social media networks automatically leads internet users to question whether there are alternatives to the corporate media decisions and how they can put them in practice through the use of the internet.
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With the diffusion of P2P networks, internet users have increased their opportunities to share information and also set the stage for personal broadcasting and independent news production. The P2P technology - which is remarkably supported by an authentic peer-to-peer network culture - is progressively changing the way people relate to the traditional corporate TV, by enabling them to actually choose what they want to see and in which way.
On the other side, P2P networks bring with themselves a long trail of issues, which span from copyright infringement to violated broadcasting rights, along with all those things that relate to the interests of the major corporate TV channels and movie studios.
While many businesses, corporations and artists have recently started to take advantage of P2P technologies to spread information and deliver their works, those advantages are actually becoming disadvantages for corporate TV, the most important mass medium.
At the beginning of 2006, a very significative event has taken place: Sky, one of the leading providers of digital pay TV, sued two young Italian webmasters because they linked a Chinese internet television which was legally streaming soccer games on the Web.
Recently, this fact is being talked about again on the most popular Italian blogs, showing how hot this issue is and how people are interested in knowing more about the consequences of this event, which is likely to influence the future of TV broadcasting and internet television.
The story begins
There is a Chinese TV channel called CCTV, which legally broadcasts football games that have been previously bought from other television channels. CCTV also acquired the rights to transmit all the games of the Italian soccer championship, which in Italy belong to Sky, UK's largest digital pay television platform and a leading broadcaster of sports, movies and news.
At this point, another Chinese company called Synacast has apparently agreed with CCTV to put the signal on the Internet, allowing CCTV to broadcast on the Web too. By doing that, the two Chinese companies have potentially allowed thousands of people all over the world to watch those games on the Internet with the use of P2P technology.
In January 2006, two Italian webmasters have been denounced by Sky, because they used their websites (http://www.calciolibero.com and http://www.coolstreaming.it) to spread information on how to download the P2P software with which it was possible to watch the sport games legally bought by the Chinese channels, also providing the links to those sites.
The procedure to watch those games is indeed very easy: users only need to download the proper P2P client and install Windows Media Player (available also for Mac users) on their computers. Thus, it was possible to watch literally any kind of TV show legally broadcasted by CCTV from anywhere in the world (although video quality was not the best).
Right after the boss of Sky, Rupert Murdoch, officially sued the two guys, the Italian financial police added them to the list of those who are investigated for violating the rules about authors’copyrights. Initially, this request was turned down by the judge and their computers were returned to them; but Sky didn’t give up and a magistrate brought the case to the Italian High Court of justice.
The giant corporation against two young guys.
What is happening now
The High Court of justice has disposed a new trial against the two webmasters for having “illegally spread and broadcasted via the Internet sport events for which Sky had exclusive rights, with the help of peer-to-peer software”. The event is ongoing, therefore we still don’t know what is going to happen next.
What we know for sure is that those Italian websites have been closed because considered illegal.
Beppe Grillo (one of the most popular Italian comedians and bloggers) commented last week that the High Court declared that linking can be a crime: whoever links to a TV program, a video clip and any work protected by copyright that have already been legally spread or broadcasted online from another country, can be subject to trial.
Additionally, Grillo raises a few important questions:
“If one uses Google to search for the Chinese website and then uses that site, has he/she committed a linking crime? Why isn’t Murdoch taking action against Google and - while he’s at it - against the whole Internet?”.
As a result, Beppe Grillo has requested the internet community to mobilitate against this decision, by openly supporting the two Italian guys and asking his readers to send emails to the High Court of justice and denounce themselves as criminals.
Sky has certainly sued those links because they violate its redistribution rights… but what about the two Italian webmasters? Perhaps we should start wondering whether they have been legitimately seized for watching TV programs that were legally streamed online by a foreign site.
The present laws have not yet declared what is legal and what's not in a definitive and universally accepted way: internet television is far from being subjected to national laws without facing the risk of incurring into censorship and limitations to the freedom of internet users.
According to what Sky says, we deduce that if those Italian guys had been in China they could have watched and streamed those soccer games lawfully: the big difference is that they acted in the World Wide Web, a place where it is almost impossible to set national borders.
The first thing we should take in consideration, at this point, is that reporting a link to whatever resource available online can be considered a crime, doesn’t matter whether that resource has never been considered officially illegal.
Also, as the author of the MiniMarketing blog ironically says, Sky has made an "own-goal", by bringing to the light a phenomenon whose existence was almost unknown to the major part of Italian soccer fans, with the result that now many more people know about P2P networks and how they work. Perhaps not a very successful PR strategy.
Roberto Pavanello of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, already reported on this fact at the beginning of 2006, adding an important detail which - if true - could lead to further paths:
“Being uncapable to act in China, for the first time in history the Italian financial police requested to the major Italian internet service providers to forbid Italian users to access the Chinese servers. Furthermore, investigators will also blacklist an additional number of sites that Italian users will not be able to visit”. (La Stampa - January 28th, 2006)
If the Italian police is really about to creating a blacklist of sites (or has already started), we are nearly close to pure censorship; that is because a private TV company doesn’t want to lose the money it gets from selling subscriptions to its users.
What's your take on this?
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