“Sometimes a good idea does not come to Idea,” Abhishek Manu Singhvi quipped, arguing in the Delhi High Court last Tuesday for Star India Pvt Ltd, as the company sought to claim rights over Cricket Scores, looking to overturn a judgement that brought Cricket scores into the public domain after 2 minutes. Over an hour and a half yesterday, Singhvi put forth a strong case for STAR, claiming that the delivery of Cricket scores over mobile, without giving STAR India a share, was dishonest.
Repeatedly, Singhvi said that the copyright argument which is likely to be put forth by the opposing parties (and on the basis of which they won the case against STAR earlier), is a “straw man” argument, placed only to be shot down. “I am not asserting rights in the work, or the rights in performance. The information is incapable of copyright protection. I am assuming it will not apply,” Singhvi claimed. So how did STAR approach the case?
STAR argued that “Quasi Property Rights” are held by the entity that organizes an event: that BCCI holds the entire, absolute rights for the event. The BCCI sells different rights – TV, audio, radio, Internet, and mobile – each sought to be exploited independently. STAR won all rights for Rs 3851 crores; Its TV rights ensure that someone cannot set up a special telescope, and broadcast the match to a group of people who are, for example, experts in alcohol, and get a large sum of money as sponsorship from Guinness: only STAR has the rights to commercially exploit TV rights. If someone else is allowed to do this, STAR argued, it will nullify the concept of TV rights.
Mobile rights exist, and Singhvi said that STAR is not saying that Idea Cellular (and hence telecom operators, VAS companies and online portals) cannot offer Cricket updates: it is just that STAR want’s a share of the revenue (because it is entitled to it, since it has won the rights). Telecom revenues can amount to crores when millions of SMS are sent, and STAR contended that Idea had the opportunity to buy rights (priced at Rs 50 lakh per match) during the auction, but chose not to; now, with zero investment, it is making large sums of money. Given that it only has people watching TV, uploading the score on its software, without buying requisite rights, Singhvi called it unfair competition and “commercial misappropriation.”
Readers might recall that when the hot news case was last argued, the Delhi High Court had said that the match information will enter the public domain after every 2 minutes. STAR argued that public domain cannot mean that telecom operators send Cricket updates every 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th minute, for a premium; a match will be public when it is being broadcast on TV and on the web, but that happens because of STAR (and BCCI). Singhvi claimed that the public domain argument is incorrect because the information is being sent every five minutes. “If your public domain argument is honest, it should be after 5pm. It is a dishonest argument,” he claimed.
Singhvi cited an MVAS report by the IAMAI, which stated that MVAS has grown to Rs 19700 crores, and it will grow to 33000 crores by 2015, pointing out that Idea has, in its annual report, said that Bollywood and Cricket are key to it increasing MVAS revenue, and on its website, clearly offers “exclusive” Cricket updates with daily and monthly charges. He used this to point out that while Idea and other telecom operators might claim that MVAS is a third party service, it is still talking about expanding on non-voice revenues with music, Bollywood and Cricket.
Singhvi called Idea’s act of sending scores without sharing revenue with STAR (and hence the BCCI), an unlawful appropriation of property. The information is time sensitive, Singhvi said, saying that the score is relevant for 5-10 min, and it has all the attributes of a commercial property. “Time sensitive information has the capability of becoming commercially viable for exploitation,” he added. He emphasised that thic case is between an owner of the property, and someone using it for commercial exploitation. STAR, he has, has no issues when a user sends a score to another for non commercial purposes. The matter is one of transferring information for money, in competition with the plaintiff (STAR),” he said.