The BCCI will be conducting the IPL Media rights auction any time now and per newspaper reports the bidding will be fierce given that both TV broadcasters and tech giants will be putting in their bids. The last time the final bid for 5 years was a whopping Rs 16,347.5 cr. This time, per media reports, the BCCI is expected to fetch revenues in the range of Rs. 35,000 – 40,000 Crores, an almost 150% increase.[i] A global transition from traditional towards digital in the broadcast sector owing to the growth of over-the-top (“OTT”) viewing has led to significant changes in the manner of content consumption. As per the State of Mobile’s 2021 Report, mobile consumers streamed 146 billion hours on mobile devices in Q1 of 2019 globally which increased by 65% to around 240 billion hours by Q4 of 2020.[ii] The subscription OTT video service user growth saw a spike in 2020, exceeding 1.5 billion users internationally.[iii] While this transition to digital has led to a growth in viewership of online content such as sports, films, music, etc., it has also resulted in a rise in the extent to which internet users are exposed to illegal content.
Globally, in 2021, India ranked third in terms of source of traffic accessing piracy websites with 6.5 billion visits and this menace shows no signs of slowing down.[iv] With the IPL season just around the corner, it is astute to ask whether the current legal framework in India adequately secures the interests of the live sports sector given the fact that the piracy of live sports events causes immediate and unrecoverable losses to broadcasters as well as governing bodies such as the BCCI. This is an understandable concern given two important reasons:
- the life of a sports event is as short as the duration of the game itself and, therefore, its value lies mainly in its being watched “live”; and
- Such live streams can easily be re-streamed unlawfully through mirror URLs and illegal websites which have proliferated all over the digital space via peer-to-peer networks.
The true economic potential of not just the sports broadcasting sector but that of all sectors linked to the media and entertainment industry can only be realised once it is cured of the disease called digital piracy. For this to happen, one of the urgent requirements is for India to relook at the remedial measures available to counter digital piracy and to take steps that further strengthen copyright enforcement.
A great place to identify certain best practices, insofar as remedial measures are concerned is the recently published report[v] titled “Mapping Report on national remedies against online piracy of sports content” (“EU Report”) by the European Commission and EU Audiovisual Observatory. It is apposite to mention that the EU has been active and successful insofar as their anti-piracy efforts are concerned, especially with respect to their sports broadcasting industry. For instance, LaLiga in partnership with the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL), NAGRA and Nordic Content Protection recently brought down an illegal IPTV streaming network based in Spain that served more than two million paying subscribers worldwide. As per LaLiga, the pirate network was offering more than 40,000 video channels and video-on-demand content, offering a wide range of channels, sports events, films, documentaries, and series, as well as 50 pirate servers located in various countries in Europe. The piracy network was said to generate profits in excess of 15 million euros and cause much higher damages to the content industry.[vi]
Some of the remedial measures that have been identified in the EU Report are dynamic blocking injunctions, administrative copyright enforcement, voluntary cooperation, use of content protection technology and IP enforcement by police forces. While contrasting these identified remedies with those currently existing in the Indian legal framework, the need for strengthening certain key remedial measures becomes important for the Indian media and entertainment industry to protect copyrights online.
To adequately protect the interest of stakeholders in the Indian media and entertainment industry in the fast-changing digital era, some important remedial measures inferred from the EU Report include the implementation of a meaningful and robust content removal process in the form of a “notice-and-staydown” mechanism as part of the existing safe harbour regime. Additionally, having in place an administrative authority with powers to extend judicial website blocking orders to related domain names and mirror sites would help to combat piracy. Apart from this, a necessary step further is the establishment of departments to enforce intellectual property rights similar to the Maharashtra Intellectual Property Cyber Unit (MIPCU)[vii] and Telangana Intellectual Property Cyber Unit (TIPCU) in all states and Union Territories. Lastly, having in place a mandate for adoption of effective technology protection measures such as encryption, monitoring, content watermarking, geolocation, content take-down technologies, etc. by the online platforms is essential.
Introducing such measures will be beneficial not just for sports broadcasters but also for stakeholders like the BCCI. The premium rates that the BCCI is able to currently command at the IPL media rights auction certainly stand to be threatened if digital piracy continues unabated. Broadcasters may not find it feasible to continue investing such huge amounts for the rights of content which is subject to high levels of piracy.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for reviewing and ramping up measures to curb online piracy for live sports content as also for other segments of the media and entertainment industry in India. An informed levelling-up of measures would be crucial in securing investments as well as profits and in future-protecting the media and entertainment industry against piracy. This note serves as a clarion call for the sports and the creative sectors to unite forces to advocate for best measures in treating piracy as a common festering disease plaguing the media and entertainment industry in India.
To read IMI’s entire report on this, please follow this link.
Jenil Shah: Junior Legal Associate, Indian Music Industry
Mridula Dalvi: Legal Associate, Indian Music Industry
[vii] Maharashtra Intellectual Property Crime Unit (MIPCU) is a public-private initiative, set up under the aegis of Maharashtra Cyber, which engages with Anti-Piracy groups, law enforcement agencies (Indian and global) for integrated tactical response against IP related crimes.
Image source: here