Who owns TV guide data?

Digital video recorders are most effective when they are coupled with guide data that tells you what is on when. IceTV is a provider of such data for many of these recorders and for Media Centre PCs. It gets the data by compiling it from publicly available information.

Now it seems that Channel Nine is not too happy about this and is claiming copyright (click here). Nine gives its data to Foxtel but Channels Ten and Seven don’t. But it is interesting that Nine is running the challenge here.

It will be interesting to see how this plays itself out. If you broadcast your TV schedule and allow others to print it (I am assuming that this is for free or that TV Week doesn’t actually pay Nine for it), then what is the big deal if someone pulls this for another purpose. Then again, copyright gives the right to prevent copying and so strictly speaking this is that.

If Nine wins, then what? Presumably a licensing deal. But Nine could simply cut IceTV off. Would this be an abuse of market power? After all, Nine is the monopoly supplier of such data and if IceTV cannot license it, it cannot compete in the market for the ‘publication’ of that data. Nine may well need to ask the ACCC for authorisation of that conduct. In that case, it will have to argue that being able to choose the form of publication or to indirectly prevent technologies that avoid advertisements would be in the public interest. I wonder if our competition authorities like ads enough.

11 thoughts on “Who owns TV guide data?”

  1. Nine’s use of copyright laws here isn’t to preserve the commercial value of its TV guide, but rather to preserve the commercial value of its TV stations. Having an up-to-date and lengthy TV guide on your set-top box (or computer) allows ‘viewers’ to break free of the broadcasting schedule altogether. Once TV is no longer ‘live’, there’s no reason to watch ads.

    Nine recently put its policy into practice by placing controls its website, where the TV guide is broadcast online for free, to stop any single user downloading the whole guide onto their computer. (Hence, stopping harvesting of the guide, without any need for ICE.) This came a month or two after its action against ICE.

    The ‘information should be free’ school of copyright criticism won’t like this. But, alas for them, the new media-shifting rules don’t cover commercial re-sale (like ICE.) (Though, I guess, indivdual users could legally scan in the guide from TV Week – or the newspaper – if they could be bothered.) Joshua’s monopoly argument is a better one.

    But the real policy question is what the government wants in its digital TV ‘package.’ Apparently, the government has long required all broadcasters to broadcast a 7-day EPG as part of their signal. No Australian broadcaster does this, though the ABC is playing around with it. Perhaps the government should make such a broadcast a condition of the TV licence. But that depends on whether the government shares Nine’s concerns about the death of TV ads…


  2. The TV listings are owned by a company called HWW.

    All the TV broadcasters assign their schedule copyrights to this one company, who then goes about screwing the highest price they can from publishers (like TV Guide) and others to provide this information. It’s a big business now and they are not giving away their precious “metadata”. It makes sense for them to collate their copyrights; it’s a synergy thing. Oh, did I mention that HWW was owned by all the broadcasters, but nineMSN bought them out just before launching the suit on iceTV?

    Globally and historically speaking, this is a highly-unusual state of affairs. It’s been a long-standing principle of copyright law that you can’t copyright basic facts. The Federal Court of Australia in 2001 (Telstra vs Desktop Marketing Systems) discovered that you can copyright collections of facts (ie the WhitePages). Even if they require no “spark of creativity or intellect”, just – and this is what sets us apart from the rest of the common law – “sweat of the brow”. This means that “sorting by alphabet” or “collating by time of day” is sufficient to secure copyright on a list of facts. Couple this, er, “unusual” ruling with a lax regulatory regime and you’re looking at one lucky Packer.

    The current case between iceTV and nineMSN boils down to whether the independent collation of such collections of facts constitutes a copyright violation – even though both sides agree that no nineMSN’s sources are being copied.

    There are two other sources of independent TV listings in this country: eBroadcast (commerical TV guide) and OzTivoGuide (community-built wiki-style guide), who must be very worried. There is a third – a modest “underground” movement of geeks (our spectrum to make money.

    I wrote to Senator Coonan some months ago about the specifics of all this and I’m still waiting for a reply. I appreciate her reluctance; kicking over this little apple-cart will not win her any friends amongst the powerful broadcasters.


  3. Just a comment on your last paragraph.
    The “misuse” of market power under section 46 of the Trade Practices Act cannot be authorised


  4. I have an idea – why not simply omit the commercial stations’ listings? It’s all pathetic, mindless drivel anyway, so IceTV should just ignore them.

    I’m a subscriber and I only use it for ABC and SBS programming, so as long as we can get that I’m happy. I’ll be happier still when all three of those greedy, self-serving congolmerates go down the gurgler – ideally Nine will be first!


  5. Why does Nine (and Seven) worry so much about this tiny issue?

    The issue they should worry about is the number of eyeballs watching their shows, and nothing else matters. Unfortunately, they’re not doing much to attract eyeballs to their television:

    * sometimes their service does not operate as advertised – a recent episode of Comedy Classics started 1.5 hours late! (they haven’t quite knocked Connex or Cityrail [trains] off their perch, but that does come close!)

    * the amount of rubbish on television is astounding (oops, I forgot, this is Australia – the Australian public likes rubbish, oh well). They would be better to show more about what our world is, instead of getting ‘lost’ or trying to be a corporate ‘survivor’.

    * They can’t design web sites for nuts – I don’t think they should try. Problems: their web sites take forever to download, and if you switch off images (as most dialups would), there’s nothing left to see.

    * Web Woes 2: there’s 789 coding mistakes on http://ninemsn.com.au/ (check for yourself on http://validator.w3.org/ ), and channel seven’s http://au.tv.yahoo.com/tv/ had 72 errors and 35 other problems/warnings.

    * How the fr3ak do I work out what was on channel 9 between 5-Mar-2007 between 6:10pm and 6-Mar-2007 4:10am(AEDT+1100)??? The SBS and ABC make it as simple as A-B-C. Another web mis-design issue.

    One more thing, in reply to Jeremy …
    > Nine recently put its policy into practice by
    > placing controls its website, where the TV
    > guide is broadcast online for free, to stop
    > any single user downloading the whole guide
    > onto their computer.

    A single ‘wget’ command will screw their day (or put another way, they already sent the data to the user’s browser, so there’s no solid way of stopping the user doing as they please with it).


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