Protection of Network Rebroadcast of Sporting Events

By Doris Li, China IP,[Comprehensive Reports]

  In July 2015, Beijing rendered its first ever judgment over the right to rebroadcast sporting events. Beijing Sina Internet Information Service Co., Ltd. (Sina) brought Phoenix New Media Limited (Phoenix) to court over the latter’s unauthorized rebroadcast of live games of Chinese Super League (CSL) and claimed 10,000,000 yuan in damages. Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court ruled in its first-instance verdict that Phoenix’s rebroadcast of CSL games in collaboration with Letv has infringed Sina’s copyright to the images of the sporting events, and ordered Beijing Tianying Jiuzhou Network Technology Co., Ltd., owner and operator of Phoenix, to cease infringement and pay 500,000 yun in compensation to Sina.
  With the rapid development of the sports industry, the right of live broadcast of sporting events has become increasingly prominent. China’s current Copyright Law does not include sporting programs in the definition of “works”, so it has been quite divided as to whether broadcast of sporting events should be protected by Copyright Law. As Beijing’s first judgment over the right to rebroadcast sporting events was delivered, there seems to be an answer to the issue.
  Firstly, the court held that the recorded images from sporting events are works under protection by the Copyright Law. Generally, the rebroadcast and production are based on shooting and recording by a number of fixed or unfixed recording devices, leading to final images for the audience. However, fixed cameras do not mean fixed images. The images the audience views are not entirely consistent or synchronized with the sports venue. The selection, choreography of sports scenes to create images for the audience is undoubtedly a creative work, and the creation from different selections and productions will present different images, a manifestation of originality. Namely, recorded images of sporting events have fulfilled originality requirements for works under China’s Copyright Law and should be deemed to be works.
  Secondly, the court found that the rebroadcast fails to let the audience interactively gain access at times and places of their respective choices, even though the rebroadcast takes place on the Internet. Therefore, the rebroadcast does not fall into the category of the right of network dissemination of information under China’s Copyright Law, but should be protected by Copyright Law as “other rights to which a copyright owner shall be entitled”.
  The court ruling has not only cleared the legal obstacles in the protection of sports programs, but also may likely affect the market development of sporting events. Although there are different voices regarding the ruling, it can be seen that the ruling has had a profound impact on the industry. China IP thus invites the chief justice of the case, also an industry expert, to elaborate.

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