Optus judgment a blow for Telstra

The Australian Federal Court found that Australian telco Optus did not breach copyright laws by allowing subscribers of its TV Now service to access sports games that were originally broadcast on free-to-air channels.

Rival telco Telstra has rights deals for live online coverage of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League, the leading rugby league and Australian rules competitions in Australia. Telstra, the AFL and the NRL were ordered to pay Optus’s court costs.

Optus TV Now is a mobile application that allows customers to record and play back their favourite programmes from free-to-air television on their 3G mobile device or personal computer.

In judging the case, Justice Steven Rares cited “time-shifting provisions” in the country’s Copyright Act that allow people to record programmes and watch them later.

Rares said other issues remain unresolved. “These include whether Optus infringes copyright because the technology used to make a recording in the format suitable for certain… devices creates and stores six temporary files of 10 seconds duration every minute and then deletes the first 10-second file as the latest one is added one minute later,” he said.

NRL chief executive David Gallop said the decision was “very likely” to be appealed. “It is a major concern as it clearly has the capacity to devalue the ability of the sports to sell exclusive rights,” he said.

AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan added: “We maintain that the Optus action is a breach of copyright. However, we are only in the preseason of this issue – it is highly likely we will appeal.”

Any appeal is unlikely to be submitted to the Federal Court until next month, according to Australian public-service broadcaster ABC.

Optus spokeswoman Clare Gill said: “For us it’s always been about free-to-air television, recording it and playing it back at a time more convenient, that’s how we developed the product. It was not category-specific in anything to do with the categories of television, whether it be light entertainment, documentaries, news or sport. Optus is committed to delivering choice and convenience to Australians and the result of the TV Now court proceedings is a major win for consumers, innovation and the law.”