Decision that there's no copyright in digital data signals stands, following High Court rebuff

By Mary Still

13 Feb 2017

Digital data streaming might be commercially valuable, but it isn't a cinematograph film under the Copyright Act.

The High Court will not hear the Commissioner of Taxation's appeal against a ruling which held that there is no copyright in a digital signal (Clayton Utz acted for Seven in the proceedings).

In 1996 Seven Network Limited secured the broadcasting rights to a number of summer and winter Olympic Games from the International Olympic Committee. This gave Seven the right to access the ITVR signal.  This signal transmitted data which was converted by a receiving device into Seven's broadcast of the Olympic Games.

The Commissioner of Taxation had argued that the payments for broadcasting rights were royalties, so Seven was obliged to withhold part of the amount paid on account of the IOC's liability for withholding tax.

Both the Federal Court and Full Federal Court found for the Seven Network, saying that the ITVR signal used by Seven to create its broadcast of the Olympic Games was not a cinematograph film for the purposes of the Copyright Act, nor was it "like" copyright.

The Commissioner then took the case to the High Court, which on Friday refused to grant special leave to appeal. As a result, the Full Federal Court's decision stands.

What we said at the time of the Full Federal Court's decision also still stands: users and developers of content using digital technology should be careful to check whether they are protected by any intellectual property legislation currently in force. If in doubt, ensure that you adequately protect your rights by contract.


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