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STAR Takes Cricbuzz Founder & OnMobile To Court Over Cricket Updates

STAR has taken Piyush Agarwal, the founder of online Cricket site Cricbuzz, and mobile VAS major OnMobile Global to court over the reporting of Cricket scores. The cases were heard in the Delhi High Court last week, and the next hearing in the Cricbuzz case is on the 25th of September 2012, and according to the order in the Piyush Agarwal case (read it here), the defendents have been asked to deposit Rs 15 lakh. What’s interesting is that, according to the details in order, the Cellular Operators Association of India also got involved, saying that STAR has deliberately not made them a party and in the event of grant of any injunction granted by the court, it should not be applicable to Cellular Operators. The Court has directed the defendants to maintain statements of accounts for each match and file them with the court. Remember that STAR had sent legal notices to several mobile VAS and app companies earlier last month, during the India-New Zealand Cricket series, which we had reported here.

The order for the case filed against OnMobile Global has not yet been made public, and the company has declined to comment saying that the matter is subjudice.

Cricbuzz, on their part, has issued the following statement to us: “This suit is about a basic cricket score being the property of STAR. We do not agree with that stance of STAR, and we are going to take up that position in the next hearing on the 25th. Beyond that, since the matter is subjudice, we would not like to comment.”

We’ve been waiting for a response from STAR for two days now. We’ve asked them the following questions, for each of the cases:
– On what grounds has STAR filed a case against Cricbuzz?
– Are you alleging quasi property rights, copyright violation, trademark violation or some other form of infringement. Please specify.
– What are you seeking from the court, as an outcome of this case?
– Can you explain how cricket scores and/or commentary can be deemed to be licensed to or a property of STAR?

We’ll update in case we get a response from STAR.

Now, from our discussion with some lawyers on Cricket rights over the years, STAR can claim ownership (or being a licensee) of Cricket scores and updates on three grounds:
– Copyright: that they own or have been licensed the copyright to the Cricket scores, or that they own it/own rights to it for a certain period of time for which the information is not in the public domain. This is the “Hot News” concept, which is not recognized. Note that MediaNama’s stand on Hot News is not neutral – we’ve opposed it. Read more here.
– Trademark violation: that ICC related trademarks are the property of the ICC and thus it can prevent other entities from using it without authorization. This shouldn’t apply to news reporting (it would significantly impact the freedom of the press if every brand claimed rights over their trademark), and it would be difficult for this to hold up in court, but in the past, we’ve seen instances of companies use names different from the official ones – for example, in case of the IPL, use “Kolkata” instead of the “Kolkata Knight Riders”.
– Quasi Property Rights: This, we’re told, isn’t covered under Indian law, but the argument is that if an entity is organizing a private event, it has the right to prevent competitors from using it. More on Quasi Property on Wikipedia.

(in case any lawyer reading this wants to elaborate on this further for the benefit of our readers, we’d appreciate it. These look like precedence-setting cases)

On the other hand, yesterday, we got a press release from the ICC announcing the launch of its “comprehensive ICC World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012 Social Media Campaigns”, introducing a hashtag (#wt20), providing behind the scenes photo and video content on www.facebook.com/cricketicc and @cricketicc (on twitter), and providing their own score updates through @wt20scores. Twitter has launched a World T20 page at www.twitter.com/#wt20 . So on one hand, the ICC is trying to foster online buzz around the tournament, but they’re also trying to prevent websites from reporting scores and doing commentary. Will STAR go after those tweeting commentary on Cricket matches and updating scores? What about alternate audio commentary feeds (which can be much better than the ones on TV).

Our take on this is that we don’t think scores or commentary should be the property of any entity, and any official partnership should be about marketing and promotion, not about granting exclusivity over something you (in our opinion) shouldn’t have rights on to begin with.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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