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Is it illegal to pirate sports broadcasts? Law will decide

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-26 07:03

Business insiders and experts are calling for stronger legislation to protect sports broadcast rights, as online piracy continues to plague China's burgeoning sports entertainment industry.

With the value of media rights for major sports events skyrocketing, piracy - including illicit livestreaming - has emerged as a serious issue that worries governing bodies and those who hold the rights.

Last week, in an effort to curb unauthorized distribution, the Chinese Football Association barred fans from carrying high-end cameras and certain other recording devices into top-tier league games.

Such administrative measures, and a series of lawsuits, have exposed the lack of clear legal protection for sports broadcasts, according to a seminar in Beijing hosted on Friday by the National Copyright Administration of China.

"The copyright law system in China doesn't recognize sports broadcasting as 'works' subject to its protection because of the relatively low originality of the content," said Gao Si, the deputy director of the administration's Policy and Legislation Department.

Gao said that high originality is a decisive criterion distinguishing audiovisual works, such as movies, that are directly protected by the Copyright Law from those, including telecasts and livestreaming of sports competitions, that are not under the umbrella.

Still, opinions vary in academic and industrial circles. Some scholars consider sports broadcasting to be "uncreative" work - just delivering objective facts to the audience - while business insiders argue that the selection and combination of scenes is creative enough to trigger copyright protection.

The dilemma is reflected in the varying outcomes of lawsuits.

In July 2013, Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court rejected an appeal by China Sports Media against a lower-level court ruling that a rebroadcast of an Asian Cup soccer game between China and Uzbekistan on streaming website Tudou was an infringement of the copyright of CSM, the legitimate broadcaster of the game. The court cited the exclusion of sports broadcasting rights from the framework of the Copyright Law.

In June 2015, the Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing ruled in favor of internet company Sina, an authorized digital broadcaster of the Chinese Super League, in its lawsuit against website ifeng. The court ordered the defendant to stop offering pirated livestreaming of CSL games and to pay 500,000 yuan ($73,000) in compensation.

The court declared that the live broadcasting of a sports event should be considered sufficiently creative to be protected by law.

With so much money at stake, business insiders suggested that legislators should protect sports broadcasts under the Copyright Law as amendments are considered.

"We feel the law could include sports in its protection range by introducing a quantifiable standard for the originality of live broadcast programs," said Yan Bo, deputy director of copyright and legal affairs at China Central Television.

A draft of amendments to the Copyright Law is currently being reviewed by the top legislature.

"The amendments should lay out a rigorous and deliberate process for any possible consequences," said Chen Shaoling, associate professor of intellectual property at East China University of Political Science and Law.

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