Telstra may abort AFL rights in Optus dispute

Telstra is threatening to tear up its new $153 million broadcast rights deal with the Australian Football League (AFL) after a copyright dispute erupted over rival Optus providing football telecasts to its Internet and mobile phone customers.

Telstra chief executive David Thodey has told The Age that if a court allows Optus to continue showing Aussie football matches virtually live, it will ”throw everything up in the air” regarding Telstra’s AFL deal, and its planned deal with the National Rugby League.

The Federal Court will hold a hearing on a request by Optus to restrain the AFL a from suing it for breach of copyright for its TV Now service, which was launched on July 19th. The service allows Optus phone and Internet customers to watch AFL games broadcast on the Seven or Ten networks on an effective delay of as little as two minutes.

Telstra recently agreed to pay the AFL $153 million for exclusive rights to stream matches live over the Internet from 2012 to 2016 and is negotiating a new rights deal with the NRL.

”It is going to put a big question mark over how rights management is done,”Thodey said. ”We have worked under a set of assumptions that we thought was right, and if it does change then we will review it. If you start having too open an environment, then it throws everything up into the air.”

Optus customers can use the TV Now service to program a recording, which is then stored in a data centre. The recording can be downloaded to a mobile phone, tablet or computer shortly after – or while – it is broadcast. Customers with iPhones can watch the games on a two-minute delay, while those with Android devices can watch after the broadcast finishes.

Copyright lawyers say Optus is relying on exemptions to the Copyright Act that allow individuals to record broadcasts to watch at more convenient times.