Due to International Olympic Committee (IOC) restrictions regarding the online transmission of Olympic Games coverage, CBC.ca is prohibited from streaming any live or on-demand audio/video files that may include protected Olympic material.
It's not just
CBC's online service which has been shut down. Online news services around the world have shut down and won't come back until the olympics are over.
The BBC's world service, and most of its other online content is offline. In Australia,
ABC (The Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and
2gbnews are offline as well.
The problem isn't that ABC, BBC, CBC and 2gbnews don't have rights to broadcast olympic coverage. All of them do. The problem is geography. ABC's broadcast rights are for Australia, BBC's for Britain, and CBC's for Canada. In their respective markets, these broadcasters each have the right to broadcast the entire olympic coverage. Unlike NBC, they're also all doing extensive live coverage. And that's the problem. NBC is doing a tape-delay olympics, hoping people will watch during prime-time when advertisers pay most. Clearly, NBC would be upset if their primetime advertising revenues were threatened by people watching live coverage earlier in the day, so the IOC makes sure that nobody in the US can spoil NBC's exclusive lock, by giving them exclusive broadcast rights for the United States. This lock extends to online coverage.
There's only one difficulty though -- neither CBC Radio nor BBC's world service are providing live olympic coverage. If you look at CBC Radio's
Program Schedule, you might notice two things. First of all, CBC Radio 1 is providing olympic updates, but no other olympic coverage. Each of these updates is 10 minutes long, and there are only 12 of them per day. CBC Radio 2 is providing no olympic coverage at all, other than what might show up in a 1/2 hour news summary.
Rather than risk upsetting the IOC and losing their right to cover the games, CBC is playing it safe and is turning off all their online streams. Presumably the same story holds true for the others as well.
Is this censorship? If so, it's self-censorship. No government has stepped in and told them to stop broadcasting. If anything, it's tear of being either sued, cut off, or both that has caused these broadcasters to stop broadcasting. Censorship or not, the effect is chilling. My main interest in each of these online radio stations is news, in particular I'm interested in hearing about events in Iraq, Sudan, and presidential politics in the US seen from an outsider's point of view. Until they turn the streams back on, I've lost an important source of news.
If these stations were commercial, it would just be a business decision, but as public broadcasters, these organizations aren't responsible to shareholders, but to citizens. CBC's mandate requires them to be made available throughout Canada. They have also provided a service to Canadians throughout the world for decades with their shortwave service. Choosing to not broadcast during the olympics is highly questionable given this.
While it's disturbing that these services have chosen to cut off all broadcasts out of fear of losing their access, it's heartening to know that the issue is contractual agreements rather than copyrights. In
NBA vs. Motorola, the court decided that, while the NBA can copyright live coverage of a game, providing live stats does not infringe on the NBA's "hot-news".
Given that this is not about copyrights, but rather contractual agreements, the questions are: what are the terms of the contracts, and are the broadcasters giving up too much by agreeing to entirely shut down their online services in exchange for their exclusive right to provide coverage to their geographic area?