A High Court ruling in London could help sports broadcasters more effectively restrict mobile apps that enable users to share unauthorised video footage recorded from TV broadcasts.

Sports broadcaster Sky, alongside the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), brought a copyright infringement case to court in March against Fanatix – the company behind a mobile app which promotes the online sharing of short, 8 second video clips from sports broadcasts.

The app is based around users capturing up to eight seconds of footage alongside written commentary and sharing it through the app with their friends.

The ECB and Sky successfully argued that the operators of the Fanatix app were responsible for infringing copyright and as a result, the app has added restrictions on use and requires all users to attribute the source of shared clips and images.

Under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, communicating copyrighted content to the public is an act generally restricted by copyright. The Act states that copyrighted material is, in effect, communicated to the public “unlawfully” if a broadcast (or excerpt from a broadcast) is made available to the public without permission from its copyright holders.

This includes footage accessed or distributed via an “electronic transmission” in broadcasts accessible to the public in “a place and at a time individually chosen by them” – i.e. using a smartphone or tablet.

Despite this verdict, some very minor infringements of copyright can go unpunished under UK copyright laws, as copyright can only be infringed if the unauthorised use involves either the whole or a “substantial part” of the protected broadcast.

Mr Justice Arnold, said: “In the context of broadcasts and films, both the quality and quantity of the copied content must be assessed when determining whether it constitutes a ‘substantial part’ of the copyrighted material”.

Social media and video sharing apps can blur the distinction around what constitutes fair use of copyright material, leaving much of the public unaware of whether they are infringing copyright. In general, it is best to ensure that any images, videos or other creative work is clearly attributed to the source when sharing with the public; however, at times it can be a safer choice not to distribute it at all.