Broadcasting licences for live streaming
Many people who disseminate video streams via the Internet have been asking themselves this question recently. Despite – or indeed because of – the great media attention paid to several prominent cases, there is uncertainty and nervousness among even smaller streamers. "Am I actually allowed to stream 'just like that'?" This is also due to the fact that many incorrect figures such as costs and fines are circulating online.
Can't the broadcasting licence just be abolished for the Internet?
The legal basis valid in this context is set out in the Broadcasting and Electronic Media Treaty (the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty or "RStV"). The provisions defined in this treaty are binding for all federal states. An amendment to the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty can only be made unanimously by the respective parliamentary bodies of all the federal states.
Therefore, the state media authorities cannot themselves amend the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty and the regulations for live streaming. However, for several years the state media authorities have been pointing out to legislators that the provisions set forth in the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty are no longer up-to-date. The federal states have not yet been able to agree on an amendment which would have meant a considerable relief for live streamers.
What content requires a broadcasting licence?
Not every (live) stream is broadcasting subject to licensing. The Interstate Broadcasting Treaty defines four underlying significant criteria for the assessment:
"Live" basically means that the broadcaster rather than the recipient determines when a show begins, as is the case for traditional television. For example, if a linear show begins at 7:00 p.m., a viewer who tunes in at 7:20 p.m. no longer has the option of catching up on the first 20 minutes of the stream.
The live streamed content is also considered "live" if the stream is subsequently made available to be called up at any time, e.g. in a media library. On-demand videos which are disseminated on the Internet without a broadcasting schedule fundamentally do not require broadcasting licences.
The actual number of viewers does not play a role for this criterion. If a stream is freely accessible on the Internet (e.g. on Twitch, YouTube, or another platform), theoretically all online users worldwide can view the stream at the same time. The actual number of viewers, even if it can be proven to be fewer than 500, is irrelevant.
It's a different matter if the maximum number of potential viewers is restricted to fewer than 500 people at the same time. According to this, a stream shown to a closed user group where a maximum of 500 people can log on would then not constitute broadcasting subject to licensing.
Even minimal editorial design is sufficient to fulfil this criterion. If a stream has narration, if there are different camera perspectives, or if zooming is performed for editorial reasons, this is considered editorial design.
Static filming – e.g. of a field (without panning) or a screen – in a single take without camera or perspective changes, commenting, or any other manipulation of the perception of what is being streamed is not considered editorialized.
If there is regular streaming on a channel, meaning at very brief intervals, or always at certain times (e.g. each first Thursday of the month), this is considered regular repeating, and this criterion is considered fulfilled. If there is a fixed (public) broadcasting schedule, meaning an announcement when upcoming streams will be broadcast, this criterion is also fulfilled if the streams appear without apparent regularity.
There is no "broadcasting schedule" in place if live streaming only occurs occasionally, sporadically, at very irregular intervals and/or only on an ad hoc basis from time to time.
How much does a broadcasting licence cost?
The cost of a broadcasting licence vary widely. Among other factors, they are based on the economic success of the content. The potential costs are between € 100 and € 10,000. Contrary to popular reporting, these costs only have to be paid once. There is not a regular fee.
What is the position of the media authorities with regard to broadcasting licensing for live streaming?
The media authorities have repeatedly pointed out that the public licence fee should be adjusted to reflect media trends. For example, our recommendation would suggest implementing a "qualified reporting requirement" in place of the "approval requirement". This system is already in place for Internet radio (see § 20b RStV) and would make prior approval unnecessary to disseminate live streams on the Internet. Furthermore, the scope of the report could be restricted to several material aspects, in particular the personal data of the provider. The legislators must ultimately decide whether this kind of qualified reporting requirement would suffice as a contemporary response. In the meantime, the media authorities are obliged to apply the valid law.