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Sports Rights

 

This article was originally written for this month’s Gaming Intelligence magazine.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently looking at the issues around copyright for creative industries, for a client of Camberton’s outside gambling, in the context of David Cameron’s pronouncement late last year that our copyright laws prevent organisations such as Google from setting up in the UK.

What has struck me most about them is how different they are from the concept of a sports right, particularly given that the lobby for sports rights equates the two.

The creative industries argue that when, for example, someone writes a song, the person who plays the song should have to pay for it. Unless payment takes place, people will stop writing songs, since they will need to find other ways of making a living. Therefore, sharing songs between people, such that only one person pays and everyone else gets it for nothing, is piracy; and ultimately it will kill the music industry.

The sports rights lobby’s reasoning, in turn, is this: when someone places a bet, the people offering that bet should be paying a sum of money to the people who put on the show on which the bet was placed, since they are profiting from someone else’s product.

You can see how people try to equate the two arguments when they are written down in black and white; but at the same time it is clear that their differences are glaringly stark.

In the first instance, as the name Creative Industries suggests, something is being created. And it’s being created specifically for the sake of selling recordings of it, because selling recordings is what the performers do. Not paying them for their work means that eventually they stop doing it, so people avoiding payment is a short-term win for them and a long-term loss for everyone.

To that extent, this is a little bit like the argument against blanket free bus passes. If you give everyone a free bus pass, it becomes uneconomic to run the bus route at all. So what seems like a good idea for a while quickly becomes a phenomenally bad one, because you’d rather to pay something for a bus than end up having to walk forevermore.

The argument for sports rights has nothing in common with this. Nothing is “created” for a purpose; a thing “exists” already. The ‘show’ is put on entirely independently of whether betting takes place on it or not, so the viability of the event is not in any way predicated on what is a peripheral commercial enterprise. Nothing is being ‘used’ other than the fact of its existence.

An analogy might be the difference between using celebrities for advertising purposes and just taking photos of them walking down the street with a pushchair to put into Hello magazine. The former clearly requires a payment, since something is being created – in this case, an association of the celebrity with a product.  In the latter case, the mere existence of the celebrity is being used. You might argue, ‘exploited’ – annoyingly, even; but either way, payment is neither made, nor deemed to be sensible.

Sports gets hung up about the ‘exploitation’ of their product by parasites, when in reality, if they wanted to make money from betting, they could get a betting licence like anyone else. They don’t, because they know it’s not part of their strategy, and it’s more complicated than just taking in revenues. Businesses are often set up to take advantage of other industries, without money changing hands in recompense: this magazine is a case in point. It’s about time sports just learned to live with it, and got on with running themselves.

 


Posted in Betting industry, Regulation.

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