10-year-old Rete 4 lawsuit revived


ROME -- The Italian courts have agreed to hear a case based on a nearly decade-old suit against Mediaset's Rete 4. The case accuses Rete 4 of using broadcast bandwidth originally given to the now-defunct channel, Centro Europa 7.

The case dates back to 1998, when Centro Europa 7 filed suit against Rete 4 in a European court. On Thursday, that court sent the case back to Italy on the grounds that it did not have enough relevance outside Italy to warrant a ruling on the European level. Italian courts immediately said they will look into the case and decide at a later date whether or not to make a ruling.

If Rete 4 is found guilty of illegally using Centro Europa 7's frequencies, it could be forced to give the frequencies back. But since Centro Europa 7 no longer exists, legal experts said, it is far more likely that Rete 4's parent company could be fined, with the money going to Centro Europa 7's former creditors.

A spokesman for Mediaset declined comment when contacted, but legal experts say it is unlikely the company will be forced to make a move on the case for some time.

"This case has been languishing at the European level since the 1990s and there's no reason to think that now that it's back in Italy a decision will be made soon," said Carlo Zannini, a partner at Rome's Studio Legale Pimentel.

If the case is decided in 2009 or later, it could be moot. Mediaset will be forced to move one of its three networks from traditional terrestrial frequencies to completely digital frequencies. The media has reported that Rete 4 is the Mediaset network most likely to make the switch.