Live streams on the Internet: Simplified notification requirements for broadcasting licenses

A broadcasting license may also be required for live streams on the Internet. If this is the case, the live stream must be notified to the State Media Authorities. In the course of the corona crisis, the State Media Authorities have lowered the requirements for such a notification. Live streams can now be notified to the Media Authorities in a simplified form until 31 August 2020.

In the following, we will give you a brief overview of how and under what conditions a live stream is to be notified.

Who is entitled to make use of the simplified notification procedure?

If there is a duty to notify (see below), the simplified notification procedure does not apply to all live streams. Rather, live streams are only privileged if they concern "cultural or religious events or educational offers".

Yet the term "event" in particular will have to be interpreted broadly at present: In view of the existing contact bans and other provisions, an "event" cannot usually require an audience these days. The reading at home or the service in an empty church are therefore to be viewed as "events". The question whether an offer is being " cultural " remains a question of the individual case but should at present also be answered generously.

Why is there a duty of notification and to whom does it apply?

The German Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (Rundfunkstaatsvertrag) of the Federal States stipulates that a permit, a so-called broadcasting licence, is required for the operation of "private broadcasting". In order to obtain this, notification must be made to the competent Media Authority.

This obligation also applies to services provided via the Internet if they are legally qualified as "broadcasting". However, not every live stream can be classified as "broadcasting" subject to licensing.

What is "broadcasting"?

Basically, broadcasting is defined as being present when the following four key characteristics are fulfilled:

  • Linear distribution: Live streams are distributed linearly if they initially offer no possibility for the respective viewer to go back to past parts of the stream just as they cannot "fast-forward" to future parts. In this sense (true) live streams are usually linear. This also applies if the live stream is subsequently offered for viewing "on demand".
    Live streams, which are described as such but actually represent an offer independent of broadcasting time, are not subject to licensing. If, for instance, a band uploads a video to YouTube that was and is only available on demand, this video does not represent a linear offer ,even if the band calls the video a "live stream".
  • 500 or more potential viewers at the same time: According to the Media Authorities, this criterion is generally met for live streams on the Internet because countless viewers can be "potentially" reached via the Internet. Only if the provider limits the number of participants from the outset to a maximum of 499 is this number of "potential viewers" not achieved.
    If the number of participants is not limited, the actual number of viewers is not important: Even if the live stream only reaches 20 viewers, it is potentially addressed to 500 or more viewers.
  • Editorial design: According to the position of the Media Authorities, this criterion is also quickly met. To achieve this, it is sufficient to use different camera perspectives or to zoom with the camera. Commenting on the contents of the live stream also represents an editorial design.
    So if a live stream does not only reproduce a certain event in a technically and content-neutral way, an "editorial design" can be assumed.
  • Presence of a broadcasting schedule or regular repetition: If the live stream is broadcast regularly, for example every evening at 7 p.m. or every Sunday, a "regular repetition" is given.

    The term "broadcasting schedule" seems antiquated but in the opinion of the Media Authorities it is already fulfilled when several future live streams are announced.

    If such a "broadcasting schedule" is given, for instance because an author announces several future readings via live stream on Twitter, regular repetitions are no longer required. No broadcasting schedule should be presented if "only rarely, sporadically, at very irregular intervals and/or only occasionally streamed live for specific occasions".

Where can I obtain a licence?

Should you offer a live stream as broadcasting in the sense described above, the respective State Media Authority of your Federal State is your competent authority (here. to be found) For the simplified notification procedure the following information is usually required, which you can send by e-mail to the Media Authority in charge of you:

  • Name and address of the artist (if applicable of the broadcasting institution, then with contact details of the person responsible for the live stream)
  • What content does your live stream have? Which offer or event is streamed?
  • Presentation of the contents: Do you use one or more (fixed) cameras? Are there editorial elements such as comments, moderation, interviews?

Usually, however, the State Media Authorities also provide forms for a simplified notification online.

How much does a licence cost?

The fees for the granting of a licence vary considerably and depend, among other things, on the economic success of the live stream. The State Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia specifies the range of costs at between EUR 100 and 10,000. By the way, these fees are only payable once.

Please note that you may have to refer to the State Media Authority as the supervisory authority in your imprint.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact our experts.

Dr Florian Jäkel-Gottmann