Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
March/April 2004, by Delia Venables

Foul Play or Fair Game: Copyright and Reporting Sports Events Online
by Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty from Lawdit Solicitors reviews the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (the ‘Act’) and the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 (the ‘Regulations’).

Over the years, football clubs have realised the commercial potential of their brands. By exploitation of the Internet through, amongst other things, licensing, broadcasting rights together with the offering of ancillary services to their fans, has provided greater financial potential and market growth for many football clubs.

Exclusive rights to broadcast premiership football is big business in the UK. Those who licensed these rights understandably wish to maintain exclusivity.

A football mad client instructed me to consider the legal practicalities of offering video clips for fans to view goals on a weekly basis.

How could we try and circumvent this without infringing copyright?

You (and our insurers) will be pleased to note that our advice was clear: ‘STAY WELL CLEAR!’ THE FOOTBALL CLUBS ARE SEEN AS ‘BIG BOYS’ WITH DEEP POCKETS AND THEY ARE LIKELY TO PURSUE THIS MATTER TO THE BITTER END; yet despite our advice the client was insistent on pursuing this further.

This article looks at how far a football game can be protected by copyright and to what extent the ‘fair use’ (exception) principles can be used to protect websites, most notably those websites that wish to report current events.

A football game in its natural form is not itself protected by copyright as it does not form part of an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work and therefore fails at the first hurdle under s. 1 of the Act.

However, there are potentially various other rights associated with a football match. For example, there are rights in the “film” i.e. the original recording of the game and possible sound recording which is likely to be owned by a number of parties. Secondary to this is the broadcasting of the film which is also protected by copyright, owned by the broadcaster.

This substantial and informative article (6 pages) can be downloaded from here. (If you click on this link, the browser will automatically load a Microsoft Quick View version of the paper. Depending on the system you have, this does not always come out quite the same as the original document. If you have any difficulty with Quick View, it is probably better to right click on the link and then download the document to your own system where you can read it with the "proper" Microsoft Word software.)

Daniel Doherty is a trainee solicitor at intellectual property specialists Lawdit Solicitors in Southampton ( Daniel recently graduated with an LLM in intellectual property at Southampton and teaches intellectual property and media law at degree level and patent law at master's level. Daniel specialises in both contentious and non-contentious intellectual property matters.

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