After closing down its network television recording service of dubious legality, TVCatchup has returned with a web site that will for the first time allow viewers in the United Kingdom to watch all the free-to-air television channels online in one place. It currently offers 18 channels and aims to carry over 40 by the end of the year.

As previously reported by informitv in February, TVCatchup was originally launched as a service to allow users to record television programmes remotely for later online viewing, and to lend copies to other users. It was claimed that this was covered by time-shifting exemptions in copyright law, but the service taken offline when its hosting was terminated without warning at the request of broadcasters.

Nine months later, TVCatchup contacted informitv to say that it was back, streaming live television channels. It claims the service is covered by the provisions of the 1988 United Kingdom Copyright, Designs and Patents Act which was subsequently amended in 1996 and 2003.

This states that “The copyright in the broadcast is not infringed … if and to the extent that the broadcast is made for reception in the area in which it is re-transmitted by cable and forms part of a qualifying service.” The definition of “re-transmitted by cable” is open to interpretation. A “qualifying service” essentially refers to the television services of the BBC and the main public service broadcasters. It would not seem to cover some of the other channels offered by TV Catchup.

The company also makes reference to the European Television without Frontiers directive, which is in the process of being revised to become an Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

“We are challenging boundaries,” said a representative of TVCatchup. “We have done what has never been done before, and at no cost to anyone.”

That might be a matter of opinion, possibly legal opinion. TVCatchup told informitv that it had gone to some lengths with solicitors and a barrister to determine the legality of its service. It also claimed that the broadcasters tested the service prior to its public launch and raised no objections.

TVCatchup is not alone in its interpretation. Zattoo, an American company that operates out of Switzerland, also offers a selection of British television channels within the United Kingdom and says it has yet to receive any formal legal challenge from broadcasters.

Most of the major broadcasters now offer many of their channels as online streams on their own web sites. This week the BBC added its two main networks to its BBC iPlayer service, meaning that all its main networks are now available live online.

This may make it harder to argue against services like TVCatchup, which would appear to offer a convenience to users in allowing them to view a range of channels in one place, rather like on television.

TVCatchup is currently provided as a beta service to registered users and is only available to those located within the United Kingdom. It is also only accessible through internet service providers that have a direct peering connection with the network on which it is hosted.