A landmark judgment from the Delhi High Court, with Justice ML Mehta presiding, delivered a couple of days ago, allows STAR limited exclusive rights to dissemination of Cricket scores and ball by ball updates of Cricket matches, and has validated the Hot News concept to India.
What the judgement contends is that for a limited time period (15 minutes), facts – apart from noteworthy events – related to what is occurring on the Cricket pitch belong to the BCCI, and hence STAR (to which BCCI has assigned these rights). We’d written about the implications of this case when it began, and we’ll have more on specific arguments made in course; we attended all the hearings.
However, a public notice issued by STAR (screenshot below) contends that Telecom and Mobile VAS companies have been barred from using live match updates without prior license from Star. The judgement (read it here) states clearly:
I hereby order the following:
a. A limited interim injunction restraining the defendants from disseminating contemporaneous match information in the form of ball-by-ball or minute-by-minute score updates/match alerts for a premium, without obtaining a license from the plaintiff.
b. There shall be no restriction upon the defendants to report noteworthy information or news from cricket matches (as discussed in paragraph 49), as and when they arise, because stale news is no news.
c. There shall be no requirement for the license if the defendants do it gratuitously or after a time lag of 15 minutes.
Thus – and this is our interpretation, so check with your lawyer – there is no restriction on noteworthy information or news from Cricket matches, and there is no requirement of a license of done after a time lag of 15 minutes. The restriction also applies only to updates that are sent for a premium. So, what does the Court mean by “noteworthy”, and “premium”?
– Noteworthy: are events such as “…who won the toss and chose to bat/bowl, whether the batsman has scored a century, or a bowler has taken a hat-trick, or a new world record being set”, and this “constitutes news in the realm of a cricket match.”
– Premium: The court differentiates between “the public” and those who have “premium” access. “Meanwhile, the public also cannot, as a matter of right, claim the access to contemporaneous score updates/match alerts, equal to those who are enjoying rights at a premium, by buying the tickets at the stadium or watching it live on TV.” The court appears to suggest that those who are being monetized by going for the match or by watching TV (ads?) are premium, and while the general public has a right to have score updates and match alerts on mobile phones via SMS/MVAS, “and in view of the conflicting rights of the contesting parties, it would be just and reasonable for the defendants (Idea, OnMobile, Cricbuzz) to either obtain a license and gain equal rights to their subscribers, or make them wait for some time, in order to not prejudice the right of the plaintiff (STAR) to earn revenue from the match information.”
On Public Domain
The Court has selected 15 minutes as the limit before which the scores go into public domain, thereby overturning a previous judgment from the same court which placed this limit at 2 minutes. Why 15 limits? The Court’s rationale is that 2/3 minutes would be contemporaneous with live proceedings, and “By specifying a 15 minute lag, it is ensured that the defendants are not providing ball-by-ball or minute-by-minute score updates/match alerts contemporaneously with respect to the live telecast/broadcast of match.” The court cites an NDTV vs ICC judgement, which states “putting the time restriction 30 minutes would amount to not permitting news to be reported but history to be reported, for the reason the news element content of such an event i.e. a wicket falling or the century being scored is momentary.”
A previous judgment had said that facts go into the public domain after 2 minutes, and in some cases, immediately.
STAR’s Public Notice
Questions The Court Took Into Consideration
The Delhi High Court took into consideration the following issues related to the Cricket scores:
a. Whether BCCI has the right to monetize the information arising from a cricket match organised by it.
b. Whether the defendants are free-riding on the efforts of the plaintiff/BCCI
c. Whether the score alert/match updates are already in public domain.
d. Whether the defendants have a freedom under Article 19(1)(a) to disseminate contemporaneous match information.
e. Whether the public interest needs to be kept in mind before considering the rival claims.
f. Whether the plaintiff is entitled to an interim injunction.
We’ll have more on the arguments in court (I have two full notebooks to type out), but the key argument made was whether the BCCI has the rights over facts to assign to STAR. Looks like, following this judgment, it does, and the judgment has recognized the tort of unfair competition and unfair commercial enrichment
The next step? Well, after Justice Valmiki Mehta’s judgement, STAR had appealed to the Division Bench, which sent the case back to the single Judge, because the BCCI apparently wasn’t given a chance to present its side of the story. Now it’s the defendant’s turn to go to the division bench to try and overturn this.