The law behind live TV embedded in your signage app

November 15, 2007 by Dave Haynes

Digital Signage Today has an original piece on its site about the legality of running something like CNN in a frame, surrounded by content.

The Dallas lawyer doesn’t flat say, “You do this and you’ll get your butt sued.”

But in the general vicinity of plain English, he seems to be saying, at least in the US, that you could get in trouble:

Altering Content: According to copyright laws, any user other than the owner of the cable transmission does not have the right to alter the transmission in any way. This means that if the digital signage network in any way changes the original appearance or delivery of the cable content – for example by dividing the television screen into parts and displaying advertising around the cable content – the signage provider would be liable.

Licensing: If secondary transmission of cable signals, modified or not, is illegal, how do bars transmit sports events for patrons? Licensing. And the same applies to music. Bars and other venues license the right to play cable television for a fee. Ignoring an available license program and transmitting content without permission could result in fines or a lawsuit. One such licensing organization is The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). ASCAP has been known to pursue even small, family-owned bars for copyright infringement actions.

I’ve never run or helped launch a client network that had embedded live TV up here in the frozen north (where we’ve now had colour TV for almost three years!!!), but I did have a partner company who had $500 an hour lawyers look at it and conclude it was OK as long as the signal was not altered.

Would love to hear opinions and experience from both sides, as a lot of people do this.

  1. billgerba says:

    The problem with spending money on $500/hr lawyers (aside from the obvious) is this: you can still get sued. If Canadian case law around this stuff is as murky as it is in the US, any new case would most likely not be deemed frivolous or have grounds for immediate dismissal, and it would either (a) go to trial, which is VERY expensive, even if you win, or (b) pushed into private settlement. Any settlement would likely involve you paying massive licensing fees to the content producers (if that’s even possible), or agreeing to not use the TV streams anymore.

    Oh, and you spelled “color TV” wrong 🙂

  2. SteveF says:

    Can’t help you with TV licensing I’m afraid but I have looked a bit into music broadcast and that is murky enough. It becomes even more of a nightmare if you want to synchronise/associate it with anything on screen. So I can imagine that modifying a TV signal is especially not an option. I also wonder if displaying a TV feed at the same time as an advertisment for a product could be perceived as trying to imply an endorsement

    That said as far as I’m concerned streaming TV is not digital signage. I don’t go out to watch TV.

    PS You spelt colour correctly

  3. Frank jigo says:

    guys you gone take some risk to change things. Dishnetwork, directv and other cable companies charging a lot of money to broadcast these channels.

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