European Court Says Leagues Don't Hold Copyright On Sporting Events

from the whoa dept

Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote about a case in which a woman from the UK who owned a pub was in a legal fight with the UK Premier League (football or soccer, depending on what you think the sport should be called) concerning the use of a foreign satellite decoder. Basically, the pub owner, Karen Murphy, felt that the rates charged by Sky Sports & ESPN were crazy high... and found that she could buy a much, much cheaper decoder from a Greek source... and that would work and allowed her to show the games. The league went after her, but she argued that blocking her ability to buy and use a foreign decoder card was an illegal restraint on trade: "If I wanted to go and buy a car, I could go to any garage I like. Me, as a publican, if I want to show football, I can only go to the Sky garage, and have to pay ten times the price of anybody else [in Europe]. I don't believe that's fair." The European High Court of Justice has now sided with her... somewhat. They've agreed that it's a restraint of trade to block her from buying or using the Greek decoder card... but there could be some issues with showing the games at her pub without a separate license.

What struck me as much, much, much more interesting, however is this part of the ECJ's ruling:
The judges said the Premier League could not claim copyright over Premier League matches as they could not considered to be an author's own "intellectual creation" and, therefore, to be "works" for the purposes of EU copyright law.
I've always wondered about this. As you may know, in the US, various sports leagues always claim copyright not just over the games, but even "any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game" at times. That's clearly an overreach of copyright law. But, in this case, the court seems to be saying that the league can't own anything about the games at all. Instead, it says that it can only hold copyright on additional artwork it creates above and beyond the events:
However, the ECJ did add that while live matches were not protected by copyright, any surrounding media, such as any opening video sequence, the Premier League anthem, pre-recorded films showing highlights of recent Premier League matches and various graphics, were "works" protected by copyright.
The BBC piece linked above wonders if this would allow others to rebroadcast the games minus any such add-ons, though you have to imagine that the Premier League will (if it isn't already) include something on screen at all times.

But what I get out of this ruling is that, in theory, it would now be perfectly legal to go to a match, and broadcast it yourself via your own camera. Or, hell, send a few friends with smartphones and streaming video -- and have someone running a board picking which camera to show at any one time, and you could create an entirely crowdsourced broadcast. Of course, stadium officials might throw you out, but it sounds like from this ruling, such a production would not violate copyright law, since there's no copyright in the sporting event itself.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Paddy Duke (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:04am

    Crowdcast Sport

    Iíve been fascinated for some time by the possibility of crowdsourced sports broadcasts. This ruling certainly seems to open it up as a possibility.

    How long before we have a crowdcasting app that you use to collect streams of live footage from tagged events and locations? A sort of video Gowalla.

     

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    James (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:08am

    Issue with the conclusion

    The issue is though can't they copyright the Jersey's, such that new pictures of the Jersey's are under their direct control? It's hard to imagine a game where their is no way for them to put something on the players or field giving them the control. At least until such parts are filtered out.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:51am

      Re: Issue with the conclusion

      http://vis.uky.edu/~wangl/Research/urbanscape/urbanscape.htm

      With current technology that won't be a problem just capture the movement of the players and animated that with virtual players, you could have bunnies playing football in recreated stadium without any trademarks.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:54am

      Re: Issue with the conclusion

      That is not really a problem, current technology is able to acquire the movement of the players and animate virtual characters in realtime, although it is not perfect at the moment.

       

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        Richard (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 5:29am

        Re: Re: Issue with the conclusion

        Cricinfo already does this for live Cricket matches - it isn't very exciting to watch though.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 5:33am

          Re: Re: Re: Issue with the conclusion

          not yet maybe. But as the technology improves so do the possibilities

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 5:53am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Issue with the conclusion

            I'm not sure any technology improvements will ever make cricket exciting to watch...

             

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              The Groove Tiger (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 7:17am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Issue with the conclusion

              You could digitally replace the player with robots and add explosion effects to the krikkit ball...

               

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:39am

          Re: Re: Re: Issue with the conclusion

          Instead of watching football players how about see the game with a Halloween theme, all the players would be monsters.

          You can put any characters to play the game, and with graphics card doubling capacity every 18 months, photorealistic plays are not far off.

          Not to mention the new abilities everyone will have like zooming in on a play, any angle view possible.

          It can get exciting in the no so distant future, but something people can do right now is to track all the logos and stuff and strip any part of the image in realtime and substitute that for something else.

           

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      ethorad (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:41am

      Re: Issue with the conclusion

      The jerseys are probably already copyrighted by the individual clubs meaning they can probably sue you for making copies of them. Taking photos of a physical jersey however probably doesn't breach the copyright though, as the photo/video of someone in the jersey would likely be transformative?

      Also currently there's rules around displaying logos on the football pitch. I think there can't be anything on the playing area or within a certain distance around the outside. Wouldn't stop broadcasters adding something in their transmission, but it wouldn't appear on a fan-made live recording.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 4:06am

      Re: Issue with the conclusion

      But if that were true, a news broadcast could get in trouble for having a billboard in frame while reporting on a live event. And a sports match is, at its most basic, news reporting on a live event.

       

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        Richard (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:35am

        Re: Re: Issue with the conclusion

        You are right - it isn't true. Including copyrighted artwork simply to trigger copyright protection shouldn't work (a court would regard that as incidental inclusion). The ruling is referring to copyrighted things that add value to the broadcast.

         

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      Richard (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:22am

      Re: Issue with the conclusion

      The issue is though can't they copyright the Jersey's, such that new pictures of the Jersey's are under their direct control? It's hard to imagine a game where their is no way for them to put something on the players or field giving them the control.

      Seeing as those things are not the real point of the coverage (no viewer would miss it if it wasn't there) a court should rule that the copyrighted items were simply "incidentally included" and therefore allowed under fair use/dealing..

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 7:40am

      Re: Issue with the conclusion

      There's no such thing as fashion copyright in Europe is their? I didn't think you could actually copyright a shirt anyway. You could trademark the logo, maybe copyright some piece of art that appears on the shirt but photographing a trademarked logo is obviously legal. Not sure about photographic copyrighted art but there's so many layers of abstraction between the copyrighted part, the art on the shirt, and the use for the photo or video recording, to watch the game, that it really shouldn't hold up in court either way.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:30am

    Competition

    The main reason for the overpricing of sports events in Europe and the USA, is the lack of competition and a government backed monopoly. Like most things relating to copyright these days, the first ones to make money off it want to keep being the only ones. Well that shit doesn't fly anymore and they know it

     

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    Strawbear (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:50am

    I'm not sure your conclusion is right, I saw it as you still need the rights to broadcast the game, but once you have that, in the EU you can sell your version to anyone.

    However your take sounds much nicer, and was an angle I hadn't thought of before. All this means tho is that the TV selling rules will alter at the next deal and we'll see every player branded with a sky logo in the middle of their foreheads.

    I hope that the subscriptions will become cheaper and the players paid less. But then again I hope Btafink gets a live action movie. So y'know....

     

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    mike allen (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:01am

    i can certainly see no reason why a internet station should not be able to give audio commentary on any match either using say Skype to a central computer or stream direct. no image and no copyright on games.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:01am

    "Of course, stadium officials might throw you out"

    I don't know about the US, but here stadiums are public buildings paid for by, you guessed it, the public! They would have no right to trow you out. And considering how extreme football fans are in Europe, I'd love for these suicidal "officials" to try to trow fans out.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:03am

      Re: "Of course, stadium officials might throw you out"

      *throw (stupid English teacher was crap in our school)

       

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    hmm (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 4:44am

    sorry but

    Premier league football matches are mostly scripted/fake these days, therefore perhaps copyright SHOULD apply in the same way a movie script gets protected.

    OR perhaps all those footballers taking dives should be prosecuted?...nah never gonna happen

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 5:05am

    Actually, I suspect you couldn't do the broadcast yourself for a number of reasons:

    1) They wouldn't let you bring the equipment required in. You could get your cellphone camera in, but most British football pitches won't let you bring in an obvious, large camera to get the job done,

    2) The terms and conditions of the ticket may explicitly forbid such undertakings,

    3) you would still have to deal with all the copyright material, logos, and such that would be in your final product without permission (such as the series logo that is always around midfield in camera view, used to brand different games from the same team).

    4) The costs and unreliability of wireless data networks...

    and so on.

    You have to read the full judgement to understand that while they don't own the rights to the game, they own the rights to everything in it, which effectively becomes the same thing.

     

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      Richard (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:27am

      Re:

      Actually, I suspect you couldn't do the broadcast yourself for a number of reasons:

      1) They wouldn't let you bring the equipment required in. You could get your cellphone camera in, but most British football pitches won't let you bring in an obvious, large camera to get the job done,


      Get your self a good vantage point outside the ground (Rushcliffe Council building next to Trent Bridge Cricket ground springs to mind).

      2) The terms and conditions of the ticket may explicitly forbid such undertakings,

      probably not enforceable after the event - although they could eject you - but in any case see above.


      3) you would still have to deal with all the copyright material, logos, and such that would be in your final product without permission (such as the series logo that is always around midfield in camera view, used to brand different games from the same team).

      This should be ruled to be incidental inclusion - since its omission would not affect the value of the coverage. Hence it would be allowed under fair use.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:55am

      Re:

      1) Phone cameras are good enough, the absolute minimum to acquire enough data to reconstruct an image in 3D would be 4(front, back, left and right).

      2) Terms and conditions have limits.

      3) That is not a problem, free open source camera tracking software already exist and digital blending is already implemented in a couple of free open source tools.
      http://methodart.blogspot.com/2011/07/fast-image-cloning-library-ive-written.html (open source Seamless cloning implementation library)
      http://www.cs.huji.ac.il/~danix/mvclone/ (cloning technique from Sisgraph 2009)
      http://code.google.com/p/libmv/ (open source camera tracking)

      4) Well there is always the chance people will upload those things later and people can make the composite after the fact.

      5) I doubt anybody owns the movements of anybody else. But people can always substitute the infringing part on the fly.

      http://vimeo.com/29348533 (face substitution in realtime, the same technique can be applied to other things that are easier to track)

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 7:49am

        Re: Re:

        All of your answers come back to one simple thing:

        Sporting events lose their "value" when they are no longer live.

        The question isn't "can you", almost anything is technically possible. But there is nothing that can compete with the live event, and there are plenty of blocks in place that make this very hard to do.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 8:06am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Exactly, people go to the live event because they can. It is the preferred way, but many cannot and would love to have some way to be part of it somehow, there comes tech to the rescue.

          Also wouldn't be fun to see furry animals playing instead of humans with no ads in it?

          Wouldn't you love to be the one making that pass or goal?

          People can also find ways to include the movements recorded into football games they play.

          I can think of a million reasons why people would want to record that stuff.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 8:07am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Also you are correct people prefer the live show, and pay for it which means people get paid already so the rest should not be a problem at all.

           

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          btrussell (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 8:10am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "But there is nothing that can compete with the live event, and there are plenty of blocks in place that make this very hard to do."

          If nothing can compete, what is the need of these blocks?

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:41am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "If nothing can compete, what is the need of these blocks?"

            There is one thing that can compete, which is the same event, live, from another source that hasn't paid for the rights so they can give it away for free.

            Welcome to Techdirt land. You might want to read back a couple of years to understand the "power" of free to destroy business models and leave us with a diminished economy.

             

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              btrussell (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:12pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Watching on tv isn't live.

              Being there is live.

              Sorry if media has confused this issue for you.

               

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              btrussell (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:21pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I've been here a couple of years.

              Henry Ford, many years ago, figured out after declining sales, that if he employed more people, not only could he build cars cheaper, making available to more people, the employees would also have money to buy his cars, which again was more sales. This was the birth of the assembly line

              You may want to look into how sending all jobs overseas leaves your people with little work, diminishing the economy.

               

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              Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:08pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Or it could be a strong incentive for people to go to the event, so they can record it and transform it later it is one more incentive, why it has to be something that diminishes other things?

               

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              Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:10pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Also after the work done those fans hold the copyrights for the work they done it.

              Isn't copyright just marvellous, you can exploit others and hold all the rights for yourself and if somebody use it you can sue them for millions LoL

               

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              Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 4:50am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "There is one thing that can compete, which is the same event, live, from another source"

              Welcome to the world of Free Market Capitalism.
              I always knew the "entertainment industry" were communists. More then half of the people called before McCarthy in the 50's were Hollywood jews

               

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    Evostick, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:20am

    Ignore the smartphones bit.

    What about when people have a wearable recording device on them at all times broadcasting/recording. Not too long I suspect.

    Also, with that many cameras, you don't need to choose a view from each one. You can use all of them to produce a true 3D (not stereoscopic) representation of the event. The viewer could then choose any angle they liked.

     

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    InAHurry, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 8:32am

    Hmmm....

    I live near a town with pretty good 3G coverage on Verizon. However, when I go to college sporting events in the local stadium, my 3G service is spotty at best.... Guess who sponsors the athletics program? I always tell my wife Verizon has throttled back the 3G in the stadium to keep us from reliably streaming the game.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

      Re: Hmmm....

      You could use a different network and get a better signal if your WiFi is being throttled.

      The good thing about wireless is that you can create your own mesh network and it won't cost you an arm and a leg.

       

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    Ben (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:14am

    If the event can't be copyrighted...

    How can the court say the
    pre-recorded films showing highlights of recent Premier League matches
    is copyrighted? (presumably the highlights are just of the games themselves).
    Seems like they can take something that isn't copyrighted (by anyone if not by them) and make it copyrighted. It sounds like the court didn't think that through.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:22am

      Re: If the event can't be copyrighted...

      A creative selection and arrangement of otherwise unprotected material can be copyrighted. Just as you can't protect individual words, but string them together in a sufficiently creative manner and you've got yourself copyrightable prose.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:11pm

      Re: If the event can't be copyrighted...

      Ben, remarkably, while the event isn't coyright in and of itself, their recording of it IS copyright. The combination of pictures, camera work, commentary... all of those things are in fact copyright.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:12pm

        Re: Re: If the event can't be copyrighted...

        In this instance I see copyright on the side of fans they can do the work and create their own material from the game and they will hold all the copyrights, which means they can sue the team, club, manager or any other person who uses their material without their permission.

        Copyright is just full of win.

         

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    bikey, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 6:23am

    ecj on decoders

    No one claims copyright on the games. Broadcasters may acquire broadcast rights (a form of neighboring rights, along with rights of record producers and performers) on what they show. So, if someone films the game from another angle, the official broadcasters have no copyright action available. This is why the stadiums search spectators for hidden cameras, and why in some jurisdictions, as a result of lobbying, bringing a recording device into a match, or other performance has been made a criminal offense. Comments, and photographs are clearly protected by normal copyright law. This is a very important decision, however, for a number of reasons.

     

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