Senior Advocates to battle it out as STAR India’s “Cricket Score SMS” Battle reaches Apex Court; Interim Relief granted in favour of STAR
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Senior Advocates to battle it out as STAR India’s “Cricket Score SMS” Battle reaches Apex Court; Interim Relief granted in favour of STAR

Murali Krishnan

In an intellectual property dispute of significant implications, the Supreme Court has granted interim relief in favour of STAR India Limited (STAR) in the Special Leave Petition [Star India Limited v. Akuate Internet Services Limited & Ors., SLP(c) 29629/2013] filed by STAR challenging the verdict of a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court refusing to grant exclusive rights over cricket scores and match information.

The interim order was passed by a Division Bench comprising of Justices TS Thakur and Vikramajit Sen on September 30.

Senior Advocates including RF Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are representing STAR while the Respondents are being represented by Senior Counsels KK Venugopal, Harish Salve and Dushyant A Dave.

As per the order of the Court, the parties to the dispute are required to maintain status quo as it existed on the date of the order passed by the Single Judge of the Delhi High Court on March 13, 2013 which granted limited interim injunction in favour of STAR. This would be subject to Akuate Internet Services Pvt. Ltd., OnMobile Global Limited and Idea Cellular Ltd. (Respondents) depositing Rs. 10 lakh before the High Court for every test, one-day match or twenty-twenty match. The Respondents have also been directed to maintain accurate accounts of receipts from the SMS alerts sent by them to their customers. The order, however, does not speak about any requirement for license to be obtained by the Respondents as required by the March 13 order.

The case has a chequered history which is outlined below:

2012 – 3 suits filed by STAR in the Delhi High Court against the Respondents contending that STAR had ‘property rights’ over match information against competitors who were commercially exploiting such match information by disseminating it through SMS alerts, for a fee. STAR had, therefore, sought the protection of this match information.

November 8, 2012 – Justice Valmiki J Mehta of the Delhi High Court dismisses petitions by STAR. Holds two minutes sufficient to commercially exploit broadcasting rights in cricket matches after which information enters public domain and can be disseminated by any individual.

December 3, 2012 – On appeal by STAR, a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court sets aside the judgment of Justice Valmiki J Mehta on serious “procedural flaws” and remands the matter to another single judge Bench (Justice ML Mehta) to adjudicate the case afresh.

March 13, 2013 – Justice ML Mehta grants limited interim injunction in favour of STAR and BCCI; directs that Respondents need to take due authorization or a license from STAR or BCCI to send SMS/MMS cricket scores and updates within 15 minutes of the broadcast.

August 30, 2013 – In interlocutory appeals preferred by the Respondents, a Division Bench comprising of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Najmi Waziri sets aside the decision of Justice ML Mehta and precludes STAR and BCCI from asserting any exclusive rights over cricket and match information; holds STAR could not resort to the narrow confines of “hot news doctrine” with respect to match information.

September 2013 – STAR approaches the Supreme Court by way of Special Leave Petition against the judgment of the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court.

September 30, 2013 – The Supreme Court, after hearing the parties, issues notice to those parties who were unrepresented and holds that,

“Pending further orders from this Court  and  purely  as  an interim arrangement, we direct that  the  parties  shall  maintain status quo as it existed on the date of the order  passed  by  the learned Single Judge of the High Court subject to respondent  no.1 in each one of these petitions depositing  Rs.10,00,000/-  (rupees ten lakh) before the  High  Court  per  test/one-day/twenty-twenty match.  Respondent no.1 in each one of these petitions shall also maintain accurate accounts of receipts from the S.M.S. alerts sent only by them to their customers.  The account shall be filed on monthly basis in this Court.”

The matter is now listed for the final hearing on a non-miscellaneous day in the week commencing on November 18, 2013.

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