Prasar Bharati drags ESPN to High Court

Published: Sunday, April 3, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:Prasar Bharati has taken ESPN Star Sports to the Delhi High Court accusing it of illegally using the ongoing Indo-Pak cricket series footage and raking in huge money by unauthorisedly booking advertisements on programmes based on exclusive DD-Sports telecast.

The public broadcaster has sought to restrain ESPN Star Sports and ESPN Software India Ltd and their employees, agents from using DD-Sports footage of Indo-Pak cricket matches in any manner whatsoever except for regular news bulletins as permitted under terms and conditions issued by Prasar Bharati.

During hearing of the matter before Justice Pradeep Nandrajog yesterday, Prasar Bharati Counsel A S Chandhiok and Rajeev Sharma urged the court to direct ESPN not to carry any advertisements before, during and after such footage.

They also sought a direction to ESPN to render "true and correct accounts" to Prasar Bharati regarding the amounts received and/or income generated from using the video footage of the India-Pakistan cricket series.

ESPN counsel N Ganpathi gave an undertaking to the court that his clients would not use DD-Sports footage of Indo-Pak cricket matches till the next date of hearing (April five) "without the express consent of the plaintiff (Prasar Bharati) except for purposes of footage in regular scheduled news bulletins".

The court also issued summons to ESPN Star Sports, ESPN Software India Ltd and BCCI asking them to respond to Prasar Bharati's allegations by Tuesday.

After previous bitter experiences of illegal use of its footage by various channels, it formulated terms and conditions in March 2003 to put an end to this unauthorised practice and the same was circulated to all TV channels on March 8, 2005, Prasar Bharati said in the suit.

According to the terms and conditions, a TV channel could use the footage of the Indo-Pak cricket series free of cost for its news bulletins subject to secondage utilised not exceeding 30 seconds per bulletin and two seconds per day. Payment had to be made at the rate of Rs 6,000 per minute for use of excess secondage.

Besides, the footage could not be used for cricket match programmes or any programme other than a regular news bulletin and no advertisements could be placed before, during or after telecast of the match footage.

Prasar Bharati appointed Television Audience Measurement (TAM) to monitor the telecast by various channels.

TAM reported to Prasar Bharati that ESPN was using DD-Sports match footage for generating cricket programmes - 2 1/2-hour long 'Show Down' and 30-minute 'Sports Line' - which did not fall in the news bulletin category.

After Prasar Bharati served ESPN a notice on March 18, ESPN admitted having used DD-Sports footage and even issued cheques of Rs 7.17 lakh and Rs 10.82 lakh to the public broadcaster for the excess secondage.

Pointing out that the value of commercial time during cricket matches ran into thousands of rupees per second, Prasar Bharati said the footage "theft" has caused huge losses to it and consequent financial gain to ESPN which sold airtime during the said cricket programmes to advertisers.

Terming ESPN's remittances as a malafide attempt to legitimise the theft, it asked its bankers not to accpet ESPN cheques and return payments if already received.

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