Government set to intervene on footy broadcasts
The government could come to the aid of the professional football codes by rushing legislation through Parliament if Optus's right to stream Australian Football League games on the internet is upheld by the Federal Court.
The court will hand down its verdict today after the AFL, the National Rugby League and Telstra united to appeal against February's ruling that Optus TV Now could stream near-to-live free-to-air AFL matches to consumers over the internet. Justice Steven Rares found Optus was not in breach of copyright.
Following the initial ruling, AFL boss Andrew Demetriou vowed to ''do everything within our power'' to protect his league's copyright and its $153 million five-year deal with Telstra.
But it has been the NRL that has lobbied the government the hardest, fearing that its sponsorship deal with Telstra is now under threat and the Optus-AFL case could open the floodgates to adversely impact on the code. The Canberra Times understands legislation has been drafted to specifically protect the NRL should the court uphold the ruling.
Lobbying has been done directly with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and former sports minister Mark Arbib.
The ministers would not comment until after today's verdict, but it is believed the NRL has influenced the draft legislation following a good reception from the government.
NRL chief executive David Gallop said yesterday his legal team was ''pretty efficient'' and the ability to exclusively sell broadcasts across all platforms was integral to the sport.
''We're pleased that the full court judgment is about to come down because it is very important that we get clarity in this area as quickly as possible,'' he said.
''We remain of the view that the Copyright Act amendment on which Optus has relied was never intended for that purpose and we are hopeful that the court will see that too.''
But should it not, it appears the government is prepared to come to the league's aid with legislation to protect its broadcasting rights.
Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde of BuddeComm offered a caution about any legislation being drafted.
''The government should not be putting anything together hastily in regards to this,'' he said. ''The ball has been placed firmly back in the government's court, but a Band-Aid approach won't help. The last thing we need is a complete protection of the old world ways. Innovation needs to be encouraged. Sure, protect old world rights, but don't do it in a way that stifles new digital innovation.''
Senator Conroy's obvious love of sport gave ''clear indications'' he would move to protect the sporting bodies' interests.
But he said the minister should keep a cool head and not ''step in with big boots''.
''A proper response to this can only be developed when the traditional industry sits down with the digital industry,'' he said.
Senator Conroy has been heavily involved in the government's response, but the actual legislation has been drafted by Ms Roxon's office dealing with copyright laws.