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SC dismisses Star Sports’ appeal against Delhi HC judgment on providing clean feed to DD

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has dismissed Star Sports India’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order directing it to share clean feed devoid of any commercial advertisements with pubcaster Prasar Bharati in accordance with the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007.

Striking down Star Sports’ appeal, the apex court stated that the feed shared with Prasar Bharati must be clean without any ads even if it has been included by the event owner, which in this case is the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Star had argued that the world feed provided by the ICC invariably contains logos of the event sponsors known as ‘on-screen credits’ in industry parlance.

Prasar Bharati took exception to the inclusion of the on-screen credits in the feed treating the same as ‘advertisements’ and, thus, turning it as violative of Section 3(1) of the Sports Act.

The pubcaster contended that it is the duty of the broadcaster to ensure that the sponsor logos/on-screen credits are removed from the world feed.

Star, on the other hand, argued that the obligation of a broadcaster is limited to sharing of the world feed it receives from the event organiser/owner on as as-is-where-is basis without advertisements of the television broadcaster under Section 3(1) of the Sports Act. The broadcaster, it argued, is not obliged to remove any on-screen credits inserted by the event organiser.

Star counsel Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the broadcaster has no control over the on-screen credits and the expression ‘without its advertisements’ in Section 3 alludes to the ads by broadcasters.

He also argued that the obligation under Section 3 is to simultaneously share the live ‘broadcasting signals’ received by an entity carrying the television broadcast in India and not just the live ‘event’ itself.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that the expression ‘without its advertisements’ will include ads by any of the three categories mentioned in Section 3, namely (a) content right owner, (b) holder and (c) service provider.

He further noted that the word ‘its’ was relatable to any of the three categories and, therefore, even if it is presumed that the logos/advertisements in the world feed were inserted by the event organisers, it would also fall within the mischief of the aforesaid provision. The basic idea, according to him, was that the feed generated has to be free of ads.

He also argued that the responsibility of the broadcaster is to ensure that the world feed is without ads. He also noted that Prasar Bharati shares revenue with the broadcaster in 75:25 proportion.

The bench of Justices AK Sikri and Prafulla C Pant noted that the motive of the sponsors whose logos are embedded in the feed is to advertise their company names with commercial motives in mind. These are, thus, commercials of the sponsors and would clearly be treated as not only advertisements but commercial advertisements, the bench added.

“Thus, even if it is ICC which has included those advertisements/logos, the feeds have to be without those logos/advertisements inasmuch as nobody can dispute that the content rights owner are content holder, i.e., ICC in the instant case has included those logos/advertisements from a purely commercial angle. Thus, the arrangement between the ICC and the appellant is totally inconsequential,” the bench stated, dismissing the appeal.