Why the usage of ‘IPL’ and franchise names in branded content is against the law?
The organisers have laid down certain guidelines to protect their brand and content.
Updated - Sep 28, 2020 1:54 pm
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is the cricketing powerhouse’s 21st century gift to the game which is immensely popular in these parts of the world. The tournament started more as an answer to a rebel tournament in the late 2000s but the impact was much more than what was expected. Soon, from a response, the T20 franchise cricket tournament became a pioneer for other nations to follow.
The IPL is now into its 13th edition but has maintained its lead in popularity over similar tournaments that have started elsewhere in the cricketing globe. The relevance of the tournament is so much that it is taking place even in a pandemic year while the T20 World Cup isn’t! The league is the BCCI’s blue-eyed boy. It has not only revolutionised the way cricket is organised and played but also changed the game’s economy and demographic constitution for ever.
Club came to replace the country, which despite the purists’ disdain, is considered to be something of immense help for the young cricketers. They get the exposure of their lifetime by sharing dressing rooms with some of the best achievers the game has seen, besides the huge monetary gains that changed the definition of life for many of them overnight.
With cricket not really making a satisfactory horizontal spread in terms of nations, the coming together of a pool of international players with domestic ones in various countries in the shortest format has proved to be more profitable. And in this new model, nobody has really matched the accomplishments of the Indian league.
Understandably, these factors have made the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) more protective about the IPL. In today’s world where there are several means to tamper with the original — technological, financial and others — it is not surprising to see the Indian cricket board turning over-cautious to shield its tournament and the domestic players.
Money is never a concern for the BCCI which hence easily restricts Indian players from appearing in other similar tournaments elsewhere, at least till they are active enough to represent the country internationally.
IPL — Intellectual Property League
Among other measures that the Indian cricket board has taken to protect the T20 tournament include the intellectual property rights or IPR. In 2009, when the tournament was just a year old, Rodney D Ryder, former partner at law firm Kochhar and Co. called the IPL as the “intellectual property league”, the Mint had reported then.
Ryder, a specialist on intellectual property or IP and also a cricket enthusiast, helped the now defunct Deccan Chargers (they won the edition that year in South Africa) create a unique IP portfolio, featuring trademarks for team logos, website designs and even copyright over the players’ uniforms. The objective was nothing but to protect the IP and add to the brand valuation.
The report had pointed out that the tournament was so popular from the very beginning that brand managers became careful about protecting their IP and getting trademarks for not only existing products but also those that were still being imagined! Darshan M, who was then the vice president of commercial operations at Chargers, said he was alarmed to see small shops in cities like Chennai and Bengaluru were selling cigarette lighters with the logo of the Chargers on them.
The managers, who were then seriously working to build cricket communities comprising the players and their countless followers, did not want the party to get ruined by fake things and inferior qualities that could challenge the originality that they were tirelessly trying to bring in. Other franchises like Kolkata Knight Riders co-owned by film star Shah Rukh Khan and Mumbai Indians, owned by prominent businessman Mukesh Ambani, also followed suit.
As years went by, the tournament organisers and the franchises tightened the protective wall. As the tournament merchandised everything that is associated with it, the need for the wall became even more. This is not something exclusive with the IPL, however. In 2007, the English Premier League sued YouTube and Google for unauthorised downloading of match clips.
To protect several things that come its umbrella, the BCCI has come up with a guidance on appropriate commercial and non-commercial utilisation of the proprietary names (“IPL Names”), proprietary marks and trophy image (together, the “IPL Marks”) and audio-visual representations of match play in all media (“IPL Footage”) related to the tournament by third parties.
What do the guidelines say?
The organisers have said in the brand and content protection guidelines: “Any world class event such as the IPL is only made possible through the commercial participation and support of sponsors, partners, licensees and broadcasters, that are each granted certain exclusive rights and privileges by the IPL in consideration for their support.
“As a result, it is vital that all IPL IPR are protected and managed by the IPL. If anyone could use the IPL IPR for free, or could create or suggest an association with the IPL, there would be no incentive for sponsors, partners or broadcasters to invest in or support the IPL and, ultimately, the amount of financial distributions that the IPL would be able to make across its franchises and across its membership base for investment in the sport of cricket towards development of infrastructure, support of retired cricketers and match officials, and development of the game at all levels would be damaged immeasurably.”
The IPL masterminds are always careful to ensure that the monetary gains of the tournament, which is a well-oiled industry, are not lost. However, there is also a window to use the IPL IPR without the tournament’s consent though it is a small one. The IPL Names and marks and to a limited extent, its footage, can be used for news reporting purposes but only in non-commercial editorial-only pieces without the IPL’s prior permission.
In certain cases, journalists can use the IPL names and marks to only illustrate their editorial-only feature subject to comply with applicable norms. However, the IPL reiterates that in case of non-licensed usage of IPL IPR, it cannot be used for commercial ends.
IPL also says that the journalistic exception over using of IPL names, marks and footage “does not apply to the production and distribution of newsletters, client bulletins or other marketing collateral produced in the guise of journalism, which state or suggest an official association between a product, service or event and the IPL.”
BCCI moved law against infringement in past
There have been instances where the BCCI moved the court after other entities tried to make commercial benefits by using the IPL. In 2008, the inaugural year of the tournament, the BCCI sued an online gaming company pertaining to registering a domain name and launching of the Indian Fantasy League. The name of the league was considered to be similar to the IPL logo and the Madras High Court prohibited the use as it meant infringement.
Ten years later, the BCCI found itself again in a legal battle and this time it was against Grace India Sports Private Limited (GISPL) which tried to allegedly start Indian Junior Premier League (IJPL). The Bombay High Court banned GISPL from using any trademark or domain name which was deceptively similar to the IPL.