Telstra, the Australian telecommunications group that recently acquired the National Rugby League’s Internet rights, took a huge hit yesterday when it failed on all counts to stop Fox Sports from broadcasting NRL footage immediately after the match on its website and selling it to rival networks Vodafone and Hutchison.
On the losing end of an April 18 Australian Federal Court decision, Telstra had sued Fox Sports over its use of highlight replays from rugby league matches over the Internet and on mobile phones. But the company failed to convince the court that that it is entitled to damages from Fox Sports for loss of advertising.
Specifically, Telstra alleged that it would suffer substantial damages, including reduced traffic to its websites and loss of advertising revenues as a result of Fox Sports coverage.
The judge ruled Telstra cannot claim substantial damages from the pay-TV operator it claims is breaching its copyright and did not allow Telstra to include the wide-ranging damage claims.
In court documents released after the ruling, the head of content business for Telstra’s Big Pond unit, Jean-Baptiste Rousselot, said Fox Sports had broken the copyright laws when it used video footage of the first-round games on its website, just weeks after the NRL and Telstra reached a sponsorship agreement in March.
Premier Media Group, known as Fox Sports and owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and James Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd, argues the highlights of matches were allowed because they were contained in news reports.
“The news reports posed no commercial threat to the rights Telstra enjoys – Telstra can provide full replays of each entire match, plus extracts of any length Telstra chooses,” News Ltd lawyer Ian Phillip argued in a letter.
Telstra has also raised concerns Premier’s agreements could extend beyond Hutchison to other rivals such as Vodafone.
“I am extremely concerned … by the fact that it is possible that Premier Media Group has entered into further similar arrangements with other Telstra mobile phone competitors (such as Vodafone),” Mr Rousselot said in an affidavit.
Telstra is seeking to restrain Fox Sports from broadcasting more than 45 seconds of footage from an NRL match or a total of 90 seconds from a combination of matches on its associated websites. Telstra claims that such footage should be shown only within 24 hours of the game.