This article on ‘Airtel-Jio clash over free IPL streaming: Facts and Laws’ was written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is one of the biggest sporting events in India, and cricket fans eagerly await its arrival each year. With the pandemic forcing people to stay indoors, streaming services have become the go-to platform for many sports fans. This year, the clash between Airtel and Jio over free IPL streaming has gained considerable attention. In this article, we will discuss the facts and laws that are relevant to this issue.
In March 2021, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced that Disney+Hotstar would be the official digital streaming partner for the IPL. Jio, one of the biggest telecom companies in India, offered free IPL streaming to its customers, a move that was quickly followed by Airtel. However, Jio alleged that Airtel had copied its marketing strategy and filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
The crux of the matter is whether Airtel copied Jio’s marketing strategy of offering free IPL streaming to its customers. According to reports, Jio had filed a complaint with ASCI alleging that Airtel’s claim of “free live streaming of IPL” was misleading and amounted to plagiarism of its own marketing campaign. Jio argued that it had exclusive rights to offer free IPL streaming, and Airtel was misleading its customers.
Airtel, on the other hand, argued that it had the right to offer free IPL streaming to its customers, as it had entered into a partnership with Disney+Hotstar, the official streaming partner of the IPL. Airtel argued that it was offering free streaming to its customers as a value-added service, and there was no copying of Jio’s marketing campaign.
The issue raises questions about the legality of offering free IPL streaming. According to the Copyright Act, of 1957, the exclusive right to broadcast the IPL lies with the official broadcaster, in this case, Disney+Hotstar. Any unauthorized streaming or broadcasting of the event can lead to legal action. However, telecom companies like Jio and Airtel can enter into partnerships with Disney+Hotstar to offer streaming services to their customers as a value-added service.
Overview of Airtel and Jio’s free IPL streaming services:
Airtel’s service, known as Airtel TV, offered free streaming of IPL matches to its subscribers through its mobile app. Jio’s service, known as Jio TV, also provided free streaming of IPL matches to its subscribers through its mobile app.
Airtel’s allegations against Jio:
Airtel alleged that Jio was engaging in unfair competition by providing its IPL streaming service for free, while Airtel had to pay significant amounts for the rights to stream the matches. Airtel argued that Jio was using its financial resources to gain an unfair advantage in the market, which was detrimental to the interests of other telecom companies.
Jio’s response to the allegations:
Jio denied the allegations and argued that its service was not a violation of any laws or regulations. Jio argued that its service was aimed at providing value to its subscribers and that it was not engaged in any anti-competitive behaviour. Jio also pointed out that Airtel itself had launched a similar service in the past and had offered free streaming of cricket matches during the 2015 World Cup. Jio claimed that Airtel’s allegations were nothing but an attempt to stifle competition in the market.
The legal framework that governs the telecom industry in India is primarily based on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997. TRAI is the regulatory body that oversees the functioning of the telecom industry in India. The TRAI Act empowers TRAI to regulate tariffs and the quality of service of telecom services, among other things.
Copyright Law in India:
The Copyright Act, of 1957, governs copyright law in India. Under this Act, copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display their copyrighted works. The Act also provides for criminal and civil remedies for copyright infringement.
Telecommunications Laws in India:
The telecommunications laws in India are primarily governed by the Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885, and the TRAI Act, of 1997. These laws provide for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of telegraphs and telecommunications services in India.
Net Neutrality Regulations in India:
In 2015, the TRAI introduced net neutrality regulations in India. These regulations prohibit telecom companies from discriminating against any content or services on the internet. This means that all internet traffic should be treated equally, without any discrimination or preference.
In the case of the Airtel-Jio clashes over free IPL streaming, the net neutrality regulations are relevant. Both Airtel and Jio are offering free IPL streaming to their customers. However, Airtel’s free streaming is limited to its own network, while Jio’s free streaming is available to all customers, regardless of their network. This has led to allegations of violation of net neutrality regulations against Airtel.
Analysis of the Case:
Airtel filed a complaint against Jio, alleging that the latter was broadcasting the IPL tournament on its platform without obtaining the necessary rights from the content owners. Airtel argued that Jio’s free IPL streaming service was harming the industry’s revenue, which was reliant on broadcasting rights.
Examination of Airtel’s Allegations Against Jio Under Copyright Law
Airtel’s allegations against Jio under copyright law were based on the principle of copyright infringement. A copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display their work. By broadcasting the IPL tournament without obtaining the necessary rights from the content owners, Jio could be infringing on the copyright owner’s rights.
Analysis of Jio’s Response Under Telecommunications Law
Jio, in its response, argued that it was providing its customers with access to the IPL tournament under the principles of net neutrality. The telecom operator claimed that its customers had the right to access any content on the internet, and Jio was merely providing access to that content.
Evaluation of the Impact of Net Neutrality Regulations on the Case
Net neutrality regulations prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against certain types of traffic or content. The regulations require ISPs to treat all traffic and content equally, without favouring or discriminating against any particular content. In the case of Airtel-Jio, Jio’s argument for providing its customers with access to the IPL tournament under the principles of net neutrality raised questions about the impact of net neutrality regulations on the case.
Copyright Infringement: In the case of Tips Industries Ltd. v. Wynk Music Ltd. (2018), the Delhi High Court ruled that music streaming services must obtain a license from the copyright owner before streaming copyrighted content.
Telecommunications Disputes: In the case of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. v. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (2017), the Supreme Court ruled that telecom service providers could not charge differential tariffs for data services based on the content being accessed.
Net Neutrality: In the case of Internet and Mobile Association of India v. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (2016), the Delhi High Court upheld the TRAI’s Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016, which prohibits differential tariffs for data services based on the content being accessed.
The Airtel-Jio clash over free IPL streaming highlights the importance of copyright laws, telecommunications regulations, and net neutrality in India. Companies providing streaming services must ensure that they have the necessary licenses and permissions to stream copyrighted content and must comply with regulations related to tariffs and quality of service. The TDSAT’s decision on this case will have significant implications for the telecom industry and for net neutrality in India.
List of References:
- Ayushi Kar, Airtel-Jio clash on regulation of content distribution through broadband, The Hindu, 9 April 2023, available at: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/airtel-jio-clash-on-regulation-of-content-distribution-through-broadband/article66717806.ece
- JioCinema’s Free IPL stream: Airtel doing proxy fight for Disney by moving TRAI?, MN4U, 12 April 2023, available at: https://www.medianews4u.com/jiocinemas-free-ipl-stream-airtel-doing-proxy-fight-for-disney-by-moving-trai/
- Vivek Rana, Jio and Airtel clash over streaming of live TV channels, matter reaches TRAI, Gearrice, 15 April 2023, available at: https://www.gearrice.com/update/jio-and-airtel-clash-over-streaming-of-live-tv-channels-matter-reaches-trai/