New Delhi: Cricket’s governing bodies are winding up to serve a yorker to television channels and websites, opening the innings in what promises to be another hard-fought contest between news organizations and the sport’s administrators.
At the heart of this latest tussle is the footage that television channels air as part of their news bulletins and the streaming of matches by websites. The organizations that run the sport across the world are consulting each other on how best to crack down on the “unauthorized” use of match footage.
Arun Jaitley, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and one of India’s top lawyers besides being a member of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), chaired a two-day discussion in Hyderabad in October on drawing up a framework for regulating the use of video clips. Representatives of the International Cricket Council (ICC) also attended the preliminary deliberations.
Missing out: The time limit curbs didn’t allow news channels to show all of Virender Sehwag’s (top) strokes that cleared the boundary in his innings of 293 in the third Test against Sri Lanka in Mumbai last week. Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
“Cricket bodies lose revenue worth several hundred crore (rupees) owing to unauthorized streaming of cricket footage. It’s also a loss of revenue for the channel with broadcast rights for a particular series. We are looking to curb this practice,” said Jaitley. The illegal streaming of international cricket matches by websites threatens the Indian governing body’s own online channel BCCI.tv, which is in the pipeline.
Podcast: Listen to Dr Clinton Free, CEO of Copyright Integrity International, talk about current and potential solutions to tackling illegal downloads of cricket coverage in India.
The cricket boards have authorized a team led by BCCI member Lalit Modi to arrive at a possible regulation or a revenue model, Jaitley told Mint. Broadcasters could be invited to discuss the matter with the cricket boards, he added.
The TV channels said they were surprised at the move. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which represents 14 leading English and Hindi news channels, already has guidelines in place based on agreements with rights holders of cricket events.
“We now have a set of two broad guidelines for match coverage—one for the Indian Premium League (IPL) matches and the other for bilateral series,” said a senior executive at an English news channel, who didn’t want to be named because he’s not authorized to speak with the media. “These guidelines are restrictive and complicated enough. There is little room for new rules.”
For instance, the curbs didn’t allow the channels to show all of Virender Sehwag’s strokes that cleared the boundary in his innings of 293 in the third Test against Sri Lanka last week. Had the channels aired all the boundaries, it would have exceeded the time limit allowed for use of footage.
“We could not even cover his seven sixes in a bulletin,” the executive added.
The chief executive officer (CEO) of another news channel said such restrictions are unfair to the viewers as cricket is also news. Experts said the cricket bodies are keen to arrive at an “agreeable” regulation for the usage of footage as sports broadcasters, cricket boards and news channels have repeatedly had bitter spats on coverage terms.
In October, Thomson Reuters news agency suspended coverage of the Australia versus India Test series over accreditation terms set by BCCI and Cricket Australia, which governs the sport in that country. The conditions included a cap on the number of photographs that could be fed to cricket websites. Thomson Reuters declined to accept the conditions.
IPL also got into a confrontation with news organizations over restrictions on the usage of content just before the first season in 2008, prompting the threat of a coverage boycott. IPL then revised its guidelines for coverage.
The NBA channels can use 5.5 minutes of fresh footage a day from an IPL match, according to the current rules. This includes 4.5 minutes of deferred live coverage and 1.5 minutes of the in-stadium entertainment programme, so a total of not more than 5.5 minutes. Channels have to pay if they cross the limit. The key challenge for any curb introduced by the cricket bodies will be to stand the test of judicial review, legal experts said.
“What needs to be seen is whether the footage shown by the news and entertainment channels violate the rule on ‘fair dealing’,” said Chander Mohan Lall, managing partner at Lall and Sethi, which specializes in intellectual property rights. “The Delhi high court, in its earlier judgements, stated that clips exceeding 30 seconds per news bulletin and seven minutes in any 24 hours, amounts to unfair dealing.”
However, in the ESPN Star Sports versus Global Broadcast News Ltd case, the Delhi high court held that a 30-second or 7-minute limit cannot apply “across the board” in all contingencies. Various tournaments such as the cricket World Cup and IPL have devised different rules on the duration allowed. What the cricket boards need to prove is that the channels have resorted to unfair dealing, Lall said.
Advertisers and sponsors get extra mileage when footage is used by others, according to the CEO of a news broadcasting company, who didn’t want to be named.
“A ground sponsor, for instance, pays to be seen on one channel, but 10 other channels show the feed,” he added. “Broadcasters are not likely to agree to new regulations easily.”
Shuchi Bansal also contributed to this story.