Can Broadcasters Protect Media Rights in their Broadcasts?

What media rights are associated with broadcasts?

Fans of football, soccer, tennis, and even enthusiasts of the Olympic Games can all now enjoy listening and sharing in the excitement of these games through advanced broadcast technology.  Advances in the communications technologies such as cable, broadband, direct TV, mobile internet and satellite have transformed the viewing ability of millions across the globe.

It’s more than just fun and game; the issue of sports is such a big business that media organizations and television stations pay large sums to have the “exclusive right” to broadcast sporting events live.  But how are broadcast rights protected in the international intellectual property world?  Do broadcasters have media rights  to these lucrative performances?

The Rome Convention

Under the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations of 1962, also called the Rome Convention, broadcasters have exclusive rights over their works for 20 years.  This includes the right to rebroadcast the initial broadcast.  This allows them to protect their costly investments in televising sports events.

The Beijing Olympics is a great example of the complexity and expense of broadcasting.  The  broadcaster for the worldwide event supplied television signals from every single Olympic venue, and used over 6,000 staff employees, 1,000 cameras, 575 digital video tape recorders, 350 broadcast trailers and 62 outside broadcast vans.

While broadcasters clearly have media rights under the law, they are being threatened by technology  that has helped them grow. “Signal piracy” and illegal retransmission and streaming of sports events has been on the rise.  The Rome Convention creates explicit rules regarding broadcaster rights, although it hasn't been updated since 1961 and does not accommodate for the recent technological advances in communication.  As a result, digital piracy has become a serious threat to the economic monetary value of broadcasting media rights.

In 2010, the FIFA World Cup had over 18,000 illegal broadcasts, and those were only the “identified” illegal broadcasts found by FIFA.  These technological advances call for updated protection of new broadcasting technologies.

Future Direction of the Law

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) agrees that broadcasters need updated rights that cover recent technological advances, and its Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights has agreed that it’s time to draft a new treaty.  However, they have so far been unable to come to an agreement on how to reach that goal.  The exact nature of the rights to be protected and how many additional rights should be granted are still being debated.

Some major issues include how broadcast signals should be protected,  if they should be protected by encryption and locks, and what additional media rights broadcasters deserve.

Of course, there are still those who oppose the expansion of the law, and those who argue that the expansion allows broadcasters the right to “privatize” material in the public domain.

Other International IP Laws

While this particular international intellectual property issue only impacts a select segment of businesses, there are many other issues that may impact your business. We can help you understand those issues.

The attorneys at Whitcomb Law, P.C. stay up to date on current issues and law changes so they can explain how they impact your international business.

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