Fantasy Sports And IPL 2020 – Legal Hurdles

By | December 1, 2020
Fantasy Sports And IPL 2020

Unlike our regular ‘bites’, this article on Fantasy Sports And IPL 2020 is something different and something from an emerging field of law. Fantasy sports, Dream11, MPL, My Team 11, etc. are few names that have been the talk of the town for almost 3 months and to be more precise from the day IPL, 2020 was announced. This article is focussed primarily on the legal hurdles and obstacles faced by fantasy sports in India but to ensure clarity and easy understanding of the concepts, it is vital to understand the following terms and how they are used in the relevant field.

  1. Fantasy Sports: Consider yourself as Shah Rukh Khan for a moment and you are the manager of a team called Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). KKR comprises of many players and the winning and losing of the team depends upon its players. Similarly, the profit and loss of SRK depend on how his team performs, or indirectly, how every player performs. Now, in a fantasy sport, the user of the app is the manager of a team which is created by him/her. The fantasy team uses the name and image of real sportspersons and when these sportspersons perform good in real sports, the manager or user of the game wins and earns. So, in a nutshell, fantasy sports are an imaginary (fantasy, as the name suggests) form of sports using real people and their skills.
  2. OFS: Before we understand the legal issues involved in your favourite fantasy sports, it is important to know that OFS stands for ‘Online Fantasy Sports’ and the phrase is in vogue due to the recently concluded IPL, 2020.
  3. OFS and IPL-Link: Now, it is essential to understand the link between Fantasy sports and IPL, 2020 to justify the title of this article. The fate of OFS users is completely dependent upon how the players perform in real-life sports such as cricket or football, etc. So, it means that to sustain the Fantasy sports system, there should be physical sports to provide the player’s opportunity to perform. Thus, when there are more sports, there is more profit for OFS platforms as well and therefore, IPL, 2020 was a golden opportunity for them to advertise their product and increase its usage.
  4. Why IPL, 2020?: Now, another question that needs to be settled is if OFS has been in India for almost 5 years, why IPL 2020 has been in news and not IPL, 2019 or previous IPLs? The reason for this is our “beloved” pandemic caused by Covid-19. Due to covid, people are at their homes without jobs or work to spend time on. Hence, a fantasy sport and IPL combo is a very attractive deal for anyone slightly interested in sports.

Legal Hurdles for OFS

Now, that we have settled the meaning few essential key terms related to OFS, it is pertinent to note that there are not 1or 2 but multiple legal issues with fantasy sports which create an obstacle in its smooth functioning. These impediments are as follows:

  1. Copyright Issues: According to the Brand and Content Protection Guidelines, 2018 prepared in consistent with the Copyright Act, 1960, the copyright over the names and photographs of the players, the fixtures and results of the matches are with the players and the BCCI respectively and any use without the permission shall amount to infringement. Fantasy sports which use the names and images of the players are at risk of giving rise to a cause of action if these materials are used without permission or license. Further, if the license is taken, the OFS platforms will be at the complete mercy of the players and organizers.
  2. Trademark Issues: The logos of each team under IPL, for instance, Kolkata Knight Riders, etc. are protected by trademark owned by the manager of each team. Hence, any use of the same of similar team names shall again amount ot infringement under Section 29 (2)© of the Trademark Act, 1999. This situation has already been faced by OFS before in the rediff gaming company case[1] and GISPL case[2]. In both cases, the Madras High Court and the Bombay High Court decided in favour of the teams whose logos and identity was used by these OFS platforms.
  3. Game of Skill vs Game of Chance: Most of the OFS platforms, for instance, MPL, work on a gambling system. It means that the user places a specific amount of bet before they enter the game as an entry fee and if they win, they earn the bet of the opposite player. Thus, like a typical betting game, there is always a question whether these games are based on skills or chance because games based on chance become gambling and wagering contract and hence, illegal under the Indian Contract Act, 1872 as well as under the Gambling Act, 2005. In Gurdeep Singh Sachar v. Union of India[3], the Bombay High Court observed that even in online games, there is the application of skills and understanding of the sports. However, the judgment took a backseat when in State of Maharashtra v. Gurdeep Singh Sachar[4], the apex court made the verdict of the high court ineffective until the matter is decided by the Supreme Court.

Conclusion

As a common legal saying goes, ‘where there is right, there is remedy’. This can be applied to the present conflict and summarised that there are a lot of rights involved in OFS such as copyright, trademarks, designs, etc. and the only remedy is to spend crores of money and purchase license to these rights. All that is required for OFS platforms is to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine the benefits from these platforms are equal to the cost incurred.


[1] Nainin Thaker, Fantasy sports are enjoying a good run with the IPL. But can they survive, with legal hurdles? (https://www.forbesindia.com/article/take-one-big-story-of-the-day/fantasy-sports-are-enjoying-a-good-run-with-the-ipl-but-can-they-survive-with-legal-hurdles/63933/1).

[2] Sunil Baghel, CCI wins IPL trademark infringement case, Mumbai Mirror, (https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/bcci-wins-ipl-trademark-infringement-case/articleshow/62893433.cms).

[3] Judgment dated 30th April 2019 in Criminal P.I.L. No. 16 of 2019.

[4] SLP (Crl.) Diary No. 42282 of 2019.


  1. Sports Laws In India: A Necessity
Author: Ashish Agarwal

Advocate | School of Law, Christ University Alumnus

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