New Delhi: Prasar Bharati, official broadcaster of the coming Commonwealth Games, has moved the Delhi high court to prevent private channels from using unauthorized footage of the event.

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The state-owned broadcaster, which operates television channels under the Doordarshan umbrella, filed an injunction suit on Monday against 24 broadcasters and the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Games.

It also sent notices to TV channels stating it holds exclusive rights to cover the event and any illegal telecast of its footage would be a violation of copyright laws. Interestingly, a few years ago, citing “public interest", Doordarshan won a legal battle that allows it to broadcast cricket matches in which India is involved, no matter who owns the right to telecast the event.

Commonwealth Games, or CWG, are to be held in New Delhi from 3-14 October.

Abhishek Malhotra, a lawyer representing Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd, which operates movie channel SET Max, confirmed his client received a notice from Prasar Bharati titled “Prohibition of Unauthorised Telecast of CWG 2010".

“This (the court petition) is a preventive measure to disallow any of the private news channels to take CWG footage indiscriminately," said a senior executive at Doordarshan, who didn’t want to be identified. “Many private news channels used footage of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games even though Doordarshan had bagged the exclusive rights to air the event in India."

The broadcaster had purchased telecast rights for the Beijing Olympics for 13 crore. “The exclusivity of the property was lost and we cannot afford the same mistake with Commonwealth Games. It’s like a blockbuster film for us," the executive said.

Prasar Bharati says it hired TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, the Mumbai-based television audience measurement agency, to track footage of the Olympics used by news channels and found some of the broadcasters used more than 17,000 seconds a day. The petition said Prasar Bharati is seeking damages of more than 5 crore from the two dozen-odd broadcasters.

Hiren Pandit, managing partner, GroupM ESPN, South Asia, an entertainment, sports and cause marketing consultancy, said Doordarshan is in effect challenging its own position that it set in 2007 when it began airing Twenty20 Cricket World Cup matches held in South Africa. “It was DD that said, under the guise of public interest, that matches should be shown on its channel. The channel used that logic and started monetizing on it."

In a July interview to Mint, Aruna Sharma, director general of Doordarshan, said that apart from giving footage, Doordarshan was open to negotiating deals with private news channels for highlights of the Games. But a second executive at Doordarshan said private broadcasters had not approached Prasar Bharati yet about the Games. Sanjay Shandilya, a lawyer representing Prasar Bharati, declined to comment on the matter as it is in court. A lawyer representing some private television channels said they would file their reply to Prasar Bharati’s petition on 30 September. “CWG is a national event and reasonable footage should be shown to audiences as part of current affairs," he said.

Broadcasters say the terms of the CWG news access rules appear stringent. For instance, a three-minute footage of the Games can be aired only once every three hours and not on more than three shows in a channel. The footage can be shown as part of a bulletin and no special programming on CWG can be created using it.

“I cannot comment on the matter but our aim is to highlight the achievements of the Indian players during CWG," said Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now.

Times Now is run by Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, which publishes The Times of India and The Economic Times and competes with HT Media Ltd, publisher of Hindustan Times and Mint.

In the past, the News Broadcasting Association (NBA) and SET Max, which held the broadcasting rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, were engaged in a spat over airing footage of the matches.

IPL’s guidelines allowed news channels only 30 seconds of fresh footage per bulletin with a maximum usage of two minutes per match per day.

NBA demanded two minutes of footage per bulletin and 5- 1/2 minutes per game in a day. Miffed with the guidelines, NBA even threatened to boycott the event before a resolution was reached.