Idea, CricBuzz & OnMobile see 'Stars'

MUMBAI: Looks like Star India is having the last laugh in an ongoing legal battle with mobile service operators and MVAS providers - Idea Cellular, Akuate Internet (Cricbuzz) and OnMobile Global.

In a significant ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld Star India's claim to mobile and digital rights for cricket matches and asked the defendants to maintain status quo as on 13 March. The apex court directed Idea Cellular, Cricbuzz and OnMobile Global to deposit Rs 10 lakh per cricket match in the court, before disseminating live scores, while clarifying that a match would include a test match, a one-day match as well as a T-20 match. This money won't flow to Star India but will go to the court until the matter is decided.

The Supreme Court also directed the firms disseminating live alerts to maintain true and lawful accounts of the receipts in respect of the SMS alerts they provide to their subscribers, with the same to be made available to the court on a monthly basis.

The Supreme Court didn't take into consideration an earlier order of a divisional bench of the Delhi High Court that ruled against Star India's stand. The apex court on 30 September saw merit in Star India's argument and asked the parties to maintain status quo as on 13 March, when a single bench of the Delhi High Court had ruled in favour of Star India.

It all began last year when Star India filed a case against CricBuzz and OnMobile Global over the reporting of cricket scores. Initially, the Delhi High Court ordered CricBuzz and OnMobile Global to deposit Rs 15 lakh per match, apart from maintaining statements of accounts and filing them in court. Earlier this month though, a division bench of the High Court ruled that mobile operators, content aggregators and other entities were free to provide SMS alerts and ball-by-ball commentary.

The HC bench arrived at this decision after taking into consideration the right to freedom of speech as also the concept of 'hot news' which means that Star's rights to report information (read: scores) via mobile - licensed from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) - are 'exclusive' only till such time as the news (read: scores) is 'hot' or in other words 'fresh'.

A critical statement in the Delhi HC judgment read: "Neither Star nor BCCI can be permitted to say that mentioning 'mobile' rights and auctioning them, would ipso facto legitimise the parceling away of right to disseminate information, without first establishing that the right or exclusive domain over such rights existed in the first instance."

In the wake of the HC decision, Star was left with little option but to appeal to the Supreme Court.

And now that the apex body has upheld Star's position on mobile and digital rights, Star India president - sports Nitin Kukreja says: "The interim order is a testament to the fact that the honourable Supreme Court sees merit in Star India's argument on mobile and digital rights. We have always maintained that lack of clarity on digital rights has been severely compromising the ability of rights/event owners to invest in creating great experiences for sports fans. This clarity is essential for event owners, who put in all the effort and investment in creating/setting up these exclusive properties to monetise untapped/new revenue streams, which but for the lack of clarity/legislation, would have accrued to them in the natural course of matters."

As things stand, Star is the clear winner but only time will tell if all the back and forth was worth it.

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