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Optus may have won the battle but it hasn’t won the war. Thats according to AFL boss, who has come out fighting against yesterday’s decision, which renders its million dollar deal with Telstra virtually defunct.

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Forget Swans V St Kilda, the real sporting battle is now online.

War. That appears to be the sentiment of the AFL, who along with NRL and Telstra,  lost a court battle against Optus yesterday over its TVNow mobile app, which replays free-to-air content with a delay of just minutes. 

The trio were looking to shut down Optus’ TVNow replay service which threw into disarray Telstra’s “exclusive” online broadcasting of rugby and Aussie Rules matches, claiming it infringes copyright.

But Optus did not infringe copyright laws as per the time-shifting provision contained within the (amended) 2006 Copyright Act, Justice Steven Rares ruled in Sydney’s Federal Court yesterday, saying:

”I decided that Optus’ TV Now service did not infringe copyright in the broadcasts of the AFL and NRL games in the particular ways that the rightholders alleged.”

“Such a recording or film was made by the user to watch it at a time he or she considered to be more convenient than when the live broadcast occurred, even if only by minutes.”

Optus lawyers argued the service was nothing more than a modern day video recorder. But it appears the battle is far from over with the sporting bodies “very likely” to launch an appeal, a NRL spokesperson told SmartHouse.

And the AFL are sounding the loudest battle cry, with boss Andrew Demetriou, vowing to “do everything within our power – everything – to make sure that we protect our content, because that’s what it is – it’s ours,” he told ABC Radio today.

“We produce our own content. We’ve spent millions and millions of dollars of behalf of our supporters, our stakeholders, our sponsors, our clubs on a product called football. And we take great pride in that for providing great enjoyment for millions for people.”

 

“But we are absolutely entitled to protect our content and exploit our content … What we do as a not-for-profit organisation is reinvest it [the revenue] back into our code,” he added.

However, this latest furore about sporting right has not cropped up overnight – there have been a “range of discussions taking place, involving sporting bodies and the government,” talking about a whole “range of areas” surrounding contentious issues of broadcasting rights, according to an NRL spokesperson.

The wide ranging discussions have been “happening for some time” as major concerns over the devaluation of sporting rights grows.

But its not just a copyright issue – there are millions of dollars at stake and could jeopardise the whole sporting industries like cricket, tennis and the rugby union, which have been built by selling ‘exclusive” broadcasting rights to TV networks for large sums.

“However, it is much wider than sport – its a rights issue that extends right around,” he added.

The ball appears to be in the government’s court to change the laws as they see fit. however, if yesterday’s ruling is anything to go by, the legal system has little or no sympathy for Telstra, the AFL nor NRL’s plight.

Telstra paid millions to exclusive online broadcasting – $153m to AFL, while NRL has a $100m broadcasting deal with several networks, including Telstra, who has paid several million for ‘exclusive’ web rights. And next year is thought to be the big year for the NRL also, which is currently in its final year of its current broadcasting deal with the networks.

Telstra, although not confirming it will take part in an appeal, said it was reviewing its options.

 

“We believe protecting content rights is in the interest of Telstra, the sporting bodies and sports fans who benefit from the investments that flow from broadcast rights.  We are reviewing yesterday’s judgement and considering all our options,” a a company spokesperson said.

The telco also had previosuly threatened to pull out of the deals with both AFL and NRL, jeopardising a major source of income for both leagues.

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