Europe’s top court has ruled that multimedia players that allow viewers to watch films and TV shows that are available illegally online through their television sets could constitute copyright infringement.

Yesterday’s judgment in Stichting Brein said the sale of such multimedia players is a communication to the public under the EU’s InfoSoc Directive.

The case centred on one man’s business but will set a wider example for other types of similar multimedia players.

Netherlands-based anti-piracy group Stichting Brein brought the case and targeted a one-man business ran by a man referred to as Mr Wullems. Wullems sells various models of a multimedia player online under the name ‘filmspeler’ [filmplayer].

According to the court, he installed open source software on the devices that enabled files to be played through a ’user-friendly interface, via structured menus’.

He also installed ‘add-ons’ that allowed users to watch streaming websites. However, some of the movies, series and live sports broadcasts on those sites were made available by third parties without the copyright owners’ consent.

The CJEU contested that the ‘filmspeler’s own advertising claimed that the multimedia player made it possible to watch material available on the internet without the consent of the copyright owners’.

Wullems was initially taken to the District Court of Midden-Nederland. That court then sought clarification from the CJEU whether simply selling the boxes infringed copyright under the directive.

In its judgment, the CJEU said the aim of the directive is to establish a ‘high level of protection for authors’ and that as a result the ’concept of “communication to the public” must be interpreted broadly’.

The communication at issue covers all persons who could potentially acquire that media player and have an internet connection, the court said. It added: ’Thus, that communication is aimed at an indeterminate number of potential recipients and involves a large number of persons.’

Late last year the Court of Appeal upheld a decision to fine a pub landlord in Wales who had used a foreign satellite card to broadcast Premier League games and just last month, the City of London Police’s specialised Intellectual Property Crime Unit arrested five people across the UK suspected of selling and distributing multimedia boxes.

Adam Rendle, a senior associate at international firm Taylor Wessing, said the decision will make it easier for rights holders to take action. ‘Such boxes pose a significant challenge which the audio-visual industry is addressing,’ he said.

Rendle added: ’The decision continues the CJEU’s much criticised approach to communication to the public but provides copyright owners with a powerful right to use against defendants who do not originate infringing sources of content but derive value from enabling access to it.’