Cable operators cannot live telecast the cricket matches from the feed received by Prasar Bharati from Star Sports & ESPN

Supreme Court: In the matter relating rights of the cable operators and Direct-to-Home (DTH) operators to live telecast of cricket matches, the bench of Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha, JJ held that  under Section 3 of the Sports Act, 2007 the live feed received by Prasar Bharati from content rights owners or holders is only for the purpose of re-transmission of the said signals on its own terrestrial and DTH networks and not to Cable Operators so as to enable the Cable TV operators to reach such consumers who have already subscribed to a cable network.

As per the facts of the case, the grant of telecasting rights of these events is a major source of revenue for the BCCI and as per the Media Rights Agreement by and between Star India Private Ltd. and BCCI effective from April 2012 till March 2018, Star India Private Limited and ESPN have been granted exclusive rights to telecast cricketing events that take place in the country during the currency of the period of the agreement. However, as per Section 3 of the Act, Star India & ESPN are obliged to share the live broadcasting signals of sporting events of national importance with the Prasar Bharati for retransmission of the same through its terrestrial and Direct-to-Home networks. They had challenged the retelecast of the signals shared with Prasar Bharati by Cable Operators to millions of other viewers, who may not necessarily be linked to the Prasar Bharati’s terrestrial and DTH networks but are subscribers of such cable operators or other DTH service providers. The cable operators, on the other hand, argued that Section 3 of the Act had to be read with Section 8 of the Cable Act, 1995 that imposes an obligation on the Cable Operators to carry/transmit such Doordarshan (Prasar Bharathi) channels or the channels operated by or on behalf of Parliament, as may be, notified in the Official Gazette.

The Court held that in Section 3 of the Act, there is no recognition of the requirement stipulated in Section 8 of the Cable Act, 1995 and the plain language of the said provision i.e. Section 3of the Sports Act, 2007 makes it clear that the obligation to share cast on the content rightsowner or holder, etc. with Prasar Bharati is to enable the Prasar Bharati to transmit the same on “its terrestrial and DTH networks”. If the legislative intent was to allow Section 3 of the Sports Act, 2007 not to operate on its own language but to be controlled by Section 8 of the Cable Act, 1995, there would have been some manifestation of such intent either in Section 3 of the Sports Act, 2007 or in Section 8 of the Cable Act, 1995. It was held that in the absence of any such legislative intent it will only be correct to hold that Section 3 of the Sports Act, 2007 operates on its own without being controlled by any of the conditions or stipulations contained in Section 8 of the Cable Act, 1995. Any other view may have the effect of introducing a fragility in Section 8 of the Cable Act, a consequence that must surely be avoided. [Union of India v. Board of Control for Cricket in India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 991, decided on 22.08.2017]

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