Broadcasters in the UK could have the right to distribute independently-made TV shows for downloading under new proposals from media watchdog Ofcom.
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They would have a set amount of time, called a "primary window", in which to distribute the show.
There would be a second period, or "holdback window", during which broadcasters could restrict what the show's producers do with it.
UK viewers as yet have no way to legally buy TV shows online.
The country is the world's biggest market for illegal TV downloads, according to research last year from web tracking company Envisional.
TV fans in the US, however, can already legally buy shows to download such as Desperate Housewives and Lost on Apple's iTunes music store.
There have been delays in the UK due to arguments over whether a download of a show would be controlled by the company that produced the show, or the broadcaster that screened it.
Ofcom's proposals were laid out in its review of the TV production sector document published on Tuesday. A consultation on the proposals is due to close on 21 March.
The BBC - which is also experimenting with a free download service for its own TV and radio shows - said in its response: "We welcome Ofcom's wish to see broadcasters and producers work together to negotiate mutually acceptable arrangements for new media rights."
Ofcom added in its review that independent companies should aim to make at least 25% of UK TV until 2011.
Quotas for production outside London should also stay, Ofcom suggested, and the BBC should try to make 50% of its shows outside the capital.
The watchdog found that 63% of all original shows are made within the M25.
But the BBC said while its plans for production outside London were "ambitious" and beneficial to independent and in-house producers, it did not believe increasing quotas guaranteed "creativity and quality" for audiences.
A BBC plan to get independents and BBC producers to compete to make a further quarter of its TV shows was welcomed by Ofcom in the review.
The BBC added: "Taken as a whole, we hope that the outcome of this consultation will be an even stronger relationship between the BBC and the production sector across the UK.
"We will consider carefully our detailed response to Ofcom's proposals."