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The issue of broadcast of live cricket matches has resurfaced. While Prasar Bharati (especially Doordarshan) has always maintained that they will need free feed from the private channels who not only broadcast but also produce the property (the telecast of matches), the private channels have been fighting for intellectual property rights.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha on March 23 heard the case of broadcast rights of cricket matches in India. In the fray, against national broadcaster Prasar Bharati are ESPN, Nimbus and Star India.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi elaborated the provisions in respect to the Cable Network Act, the Prasar Bharati Act and the Sports Act and submitted that “the sole purpose of these acts was to assure that a game of national importance like a cricket match must reach out to the masses.”

He also said that “while they (the other broadcasters) are private players and since cricket is their major source of revenue, they get 75 percent of the revenue, while Prasar Bharati gets only 25 percent.

He said the Sports Act too talks about providing access to the largest number of listeners/viewers for free all games of national importance.

He argued that with these acts in mind, one cannot just go to court and say that the basic objectives of these acts be done away with. The object of the acts was included in the judgement of 1995, he reminded, saying that Article 19(1)(a) is violated in dealing with persons who reside in remote parts of the country and cannot afford these private channels.

This person cannot be excluded from watching the match merely on the ground that he has not subscribed to these private channels.

The counsel for the respondents urged the court to permit him to act as an intervener, because he represents the cable operators.

He said what is decided must be reasonable. He said that in the reconciliation of the acts, there was no need for strict interpretation. He said that it has to be seen whether the right of property was protected.

The matter will be heard again on March 30.

—By India Legal Bureau

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