The Intellectual Property business of India’s biggest cricket league – IPL.

This article was written by Gargi Chatterjee, Tanya Mehta and Pratyusha Ganesh as a collaborative one. You can contact them via their Linkedin Profiles.

Indian Premier League (IPL) is a Twenty20 cricket tournament that was started in the year 2007 by the then Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) vice-president, Mr. Lalit Modi. A total of 8 teams representing different regions in India play this tournament and are called the franchises of the league. IPL is an emotional topic for all cricket lovers. It is one of the most watched and much celebrated events in India and is usually held during the months of April and May. Best cricket players and young upcoming talent from all around the world get to showcase their talent during the IPL season. 

But IPL is just not all about cricket, believe it or not, it is a big business! Team owners, players and the BCCI generates tons of revenue every year through this extravagant sports tournament. IPL without a doubt is one of the biggest commercialized sports events. The marketing, advertising, sponsorship, teams, players, merchandise everything is top notch. IPL generates its central revenue by giving franchises, sponsorship and broadcasting rights to other companies. Other ways of generating revenue is by selling tickets, smaller sponsors, official merchandise, etc. 

Considering the size of the IPL business and its franchises, there is a whole lot of Intellectual Property (IP) that is involved. The brand value of IPL would be affected if it’s IP is not protected, however, IPL has mastered the game. This article explores how IPL protects its IP.

WHY IPL AS A BRAND NEEDS TO BE PROTECTED?


The brand value of the IPL in 2019 was ₹475 billion (US$6.7 billion), according to Duff & Phelps. According to BCCI, the 2015 IPL season contributed ₹11.5 billion (US$160 million) to the GDP of the Indian economy.1

The brand value of IPL consists of its intellectual property among other things. . The success of any sports event, be it Olympics, World Cup, National Games or professional and semi-professional leagues depends upon various stakeholders such as – sponsors, broadcasters and players. Each of them are assigned specific Intellectual Property (IP) peculiar to their distinct roles. Similarly, IPL too has categorised its stakeholders and granted certain rights and privileges for their support. It is important for IPL to protect the brand image so that the sponsors can enjoy and benefit from the privileges of investing in a brand like this For example, if anyone could use the IPL trademark logo for free then there would be no impetus for the sponsors to invest in IPL and ultimately that would lower the quality of the franchise and  the brand value itself. It is for this reason that IPL has set up certain guidelines for use of its intellectual property which will be discussed in the following sections.

WHAT CONSTITUTES AS IP FOR IPL?

In its first season, no franchise/ team had any merchandising beyond the t-shirts. Over the years, the popularity has grown and the fans show their support to their favorite teams and players. This has also simultaneously led to a lot of infringement taking place in the areas of intellectual property. 

The underlying objective behind these rights is to protect the brand and to increase its valuation through the massive interest that IPL attracts. 

The IP rights in IPL are protected under the Trademarks Act, the Designs Act, the Copyright Act, Competition & Trade Practices Laws, Telecommunications & Broadcast Laws and the Common Law. This section deals with the two most important laws that protect the intellectual property of IPL.  

Under the Trademarks Law

The term “Indian Premier League”, “DLF IPL”, “T20” and other variants, are registered and trademarked by the BCCI.

The Trademark Law protects the following: 

  • Names, phrases, logos of IPL itself and its franchises. 
  • Domain names like www.iplt20.com 

The above-mentioned IP have a strong presence and are a means by which the audience identifies the sport. Hence, they are in the public domain and have to be protected. 

Registration of the trademark, gives the BCCI, the exclusive right to license/ sell their IP associated with IPL and benefit from it thereof. It can also sue an unauthorized user. One such case was in the year 2008 between BCCI and Rediff.com, BCCI moved the Madras High Court in order to get a restraining order for Rediff.com from using the domain name “Indian Fantasy League”. The Indian Fantasy League with a deceptively similar name also had a logo with a batsman playing a shot, which also was fraudulently similar to that of IPL. BCCI also sought action to Rediff.com and its owner Sandeep Goyal to render all true and faithful accounts of the profits earned by them by using the infringed trademark. Apart from this BCCI also prayed to claim damages of INR 10 Lakhs. 

In 2016, BCCI filed a suit for urgent interim reliefs against Grace India Sports Private Limited (GISPL) to cease and desist using the domain names like ‘http:www.iplt20.com’ or ‘juniorsipl.com’, and other names such as Junior IPL etc. BCCI contended that in 2016 GISPL had approached them for the approval of starting a sports tournament known as Junior IPL for kids, however, without their approval, GISPL went ahead and used the domain names and other deceptive names that infringed the trademarks of IPL. In 2018 Justice SJ Kathawalla, passed an order stopping GISPL from using the domain names.2 

Under the Copyright Act of 1957

Copyright is applied to an original literary, musical or a cinematographic work. 

The BCCI has registered the following for copyright protection:

  • Fixtures
  • Published Results
  • Recorded visual images 
  • Commentaries
  • Photographs of events, teams and athletes 
  • Rule books, reports and other materials used in the administration and promotion of sport
  • IPL title track

In 2015, a notice from the Indian Performing Rights Society was sent to the organisers of IPL-8, Encompass Event Pvt. Ltd. for using music without procuring appropriate licenses and paying the ‘Performance Licence (Royalty) Fees’. This fee is mandatory to pay. 

“Any performance of musical and literary works by way of live performance or by usage of recorded music, without a licence granted by the owner under Section 30 of the Copyright Act, 1957 is illegal”.3 However, this mistake was soon rectified and the music was soon played again during the matches.

GUIDELINES SET BY BCCI

As discussed earlier IPL uses trademark and copyright to protect its intellectual property. From the very beginning, managers at BCCI understood the power of intellectual property of IPL as an asset. The tournament has managed to stay famous amongst various other tournaments around the globe. However, because of the sheer fan base in billions, regulating unlicensed use of these intellectual property is a separate task for BCCI. It is for this reason that IPL has come up with guidelines to protect and regulate the use of its intellectual proper4

Don’ts: Under the guideline the unlicensed and unauthorised use of any of the IPL Names, IPL Marks (or any other marks or logos that are confusingly similar to, or likely to be mistaken for, them) or IPL Footage is strictly prohibited. The IPL Names and IPL Marks cannot be used on goods, in business names or in advertising or promotions without license from the IPL or one of its authorised licensees that, in turn, has the rights to grant sublicenses. It is also unlawful to use IPL’s IP to falsely represent or imply any association, affiliation, endorsement, sponsorship or any kind of similar relationship. Charging money for public screening of matches is not permitted, Similarly, merchandising with IPL intellectual property, advertisements that create confusion are not permitted. It is pertinent to note that even the brands associated with the franchises of IPL are not permitted to use the intellectual property belonging to IPL.

Do’s: The constituents under IPL including its names, marks, media accreditation terms and News Access Regulations, Footage may be used for non-commercial news reporting purposes without the IPL’s prior authorisation. In certain circumstances when reporting and providing information on the IPL, journalists are able to use the IPL Names and IPL Marks to illustrate their editorial-only feature subject to full compliance with applicable laws and regulations.. The right to broadcast the matches is held by the STAR Network currently. The audio-visual images of the match footage and the highlights are protected as the Intellectual Property of the BCCI.  However, they can be used in the name of “fair use” and “journalistic coverage”, but there is a limit to these.

In case of non-compliance with such guidelines, IPL has stated that it will take legal action in the form of infringement suit which may include injunction and also suit for damage


CONCLUSION

The Indian Premier League has established itself as a well known brand in India.. With the amount of attention that it attracts, its IP has to be vigilantly guarded. This ensures its smooth functioning as well as optimal use of the investment involved in its branding and commercialisation .  It is safe to say that IPL has mastered the game of Intellectual Property. Other sports events across the country should take inspiration from IPL and understand why and how the  protection of IP is important. IPL is an example of how registered IP can change the brand image and add value to the brand immensely. 

The IPL is a world class event and brand.  In its quest to protect its intellectual property in the bigger picture, it is overlooking the smaller businesses which are free riding on its name. Even though it might not be affecting the brand value and image of the premier league at the moment, continuity of this practice might lead to exploitation in the future.This is hardly a hiccup in comparison to what an amazing league the IPL is. 

As the boys continue to play in empty stadiums, the fans continue to cheer and support them from the comfort of their homes. IPL manages to bring cultures together in a diverse land like India, successfully. For now, the league is a combination of teamwork, strategic planning and tons of hardwork and is ruling our hearts. 


1 https://www.aroundthewicket.com/home/whatistheipl-jah3y-5whf4-2xn45

2https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/bcci-wins-ipl-trademark-infringement-case/articleshow/62893433.cms

3https://www.cricketcountry.com/news/ipl-2015-copyright-notice-to-organisers-for-music-during-opening-ceremony-271367

4https://resources.platform.iplt20.com/IPL/document/2020/09/13/e81ad3af-a65c-4b95-a0d6-cd7840acf20f/IPL-2020-Brand-and-Content-Protection-Guidelines.pdf

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