Are live cricket scores really property? Debate continues across jurisdiction about the existence of proprietary rights in live sports scores.
Dr Anna Kingsbury of the Faculty of Law, University of Waikato explores “data rights” clauses in Media Rights Agreements.
MSM Satellite (Singapore) Pte Ltd v M/S Next Radio Ltd, (CS(OS) 186/2014), MSM Satellite (Singapore) Pte Ltd v M/S Akuate Internet Service Ovt. Ltd (CS(OS) 187/2014), MSM Satellite (Singapore) Pte Ltd v ESPN Digital Media (India) Pvt Ltd and Ors (CS(OS) 188/2014) High Court of Delhi at New Delhi, 21 January 2014, Justice G.S. Sistani
The issue arose in the 2014 tour of New Zealand by the Indian cricket team. The resulting actions in the Delhi High Court raised major issues about copyright and sporting events. The plaintiff, Multi Screen Media (MSM), operated the SONY television channel, among others. MSM had entered into a Media Rights Agreement with New Zealand Cricket Inc. Under the agreement MSM had obtained the exclusive media rights for India and the sub-continent for the Indian cricket team’s tour of New Zealand which commenced on 19 January 2014. Under the agreement MSM obtained the exclusive rights to broadcast, exhibit and transmit the audio-visual coverage of each match on a live and/or delayed basis, in full and/or as highlights and/or clips.
The various defendants were operating web sites which provided live ball by ball commentary and scores on the New Zealand-India cricket matches. Sites providing the commentary included ESPNCricinfo, Cricbuzz and RadioOne. MSM argued that these sites were infringing its exclusive rights.
The Delhi High Court made ex parte ad-interim orders against the defendants, restraining them from:
- making available, through any medium whatsoever, live/contemporaneous audio commentary of the matches played in the cricket series between India-New Zealand;
- exploiting or authorizing the exploitation of cricket match-related material/information/details including but not limited to current cricket score, ball-by-ball updates, score cards, score updates, alerts, etc., contemporaneous with match situations/events, as they happen in relation to the matches played in the cricket series between India-New Zealand.
The decisions follow similar decisions of the High Court in which Star India, which has the rights to cricket matches organized by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) sued phone companies providing a live cricket update service. The Star action initially succeeded, but the orders were subsequently set aside and it is understood the case is to be heard by the Supreme Court.
This series of cases raised important issues about what rights actually exist in sporting events and consequently what rights to sporting events can be licensed to media organisations. Contracts may include “data rights” clauses, raising the issue as to whether there are actually rights in existence covering factual data such as cricket scores. The long-standing copyright position is that there is no copyright in facts and information in themselves, copyright protects original works. Game data is not protected by copyright. There have been efforts to protect this information through the law of unfair competition in some jurisdictions, for example in relation to basketball scores in the United States, but these efforts have been unsuccessful. Critics of expanded rights argue that creating rights in information conflicts with the rights to freedom of expression. There are also obvious problems of enforcement of rights to live updates as everyone at the game with a cell phone can post updates to friends and family. There is significant money involved in these disputes, and it is an area where we can expect more case law to emerge.
Note: This article was first published in the New Zealand Law Journal (March 2014), 62.
Dr Anna Kingsbury
Dr Kingsbury is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Law, University of Waikato where she teaches the Law of Torts in the core undergraduate curriculum. She also teaches specialist papers in Competition Law and in Intellectual Property Law at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and supervises research students. Dr. Kingsbury’s research interests lie are primarily in Intellectual Property Law and Policy. She is a regular contributor to New Zealand intellectual property publications.