The Meerkat Minefield: Legal Issues With Live-Streaming Apps

March 30, 2015Article

Meerkat, a live-streaming mobile app that effectively turns a smartphone into a broadcaster, was the tech success story of South by Southwest. Twitter launched Periscope, a similar app, on March 26. Unlike YouTube, which ingests and stores videos, Meerkat streams only live video; Periscope and another service, YouNow, archive streams for 24 and 72 hours, respectively. But any instant live-streaming service comes with potential legal issues.

Public performance rights come into play here. Meerkat would need to acquire the proper licenses from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to cover streams of live performances at concerts. The company may also violate record labels' performance rights if a Meerkat user streamed a sound recording "like a DJ's pre-recorded tracks at an EDM show," says Bill Hochberg, an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles. More than music can be affected. Television broadcast rights could also easily be infringed. A live stream could circumvent NFL blackout rules that prevent a telecast from airing in certain areas, for example.

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