DVB-H: Future imperfect

    The entry of DVB-H into the local market will throw up some interesting legal issues, says Arjun Aiyar of The Rights Lawyers.
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    It was announced earlier this year that the digital video broadcasting handheld (DVB-H) standard would be used and adopted in Dubai by early 2009.

    DVB-H has also been adopted by the European Union as its preferred mobile TV format.

    Currently the talk of the global technology world, DVB-H is short for Digital Video Broadcasting - Handheld, a suite of internationally accepted, open standards for digital television maintained by the DVB Project, a global industry consortium with more than 300 members.

    Trials and pilot services in key global markets have endorsed the technical capabilities and economic advantages of DVB-H.

     

    "It is imperative that rights holders must ensure that future technologies are excluded from the rights that they are granting Arjun Aiyar, The Rights Lawyers"
     

    The introduction of DVB-H promises to revolutionise how, when and where people view television in the UAE. In addition it throws open the possibility of a whole host of on-demand and interactive services related to infotainment, news and sports. In a nutshell, DVB-H promises to allow users of mobile devices access to high quality Digital television while on the move.

    While this development - both from a technological and consumer viewpoint - is extremely exciting, it does, however, throw up some interesting legal problems which could be an issue in respect of who owns the rights to certain programming.



    Given that DVB-H would enable the broadcast of television on your mobile, would you be watching television or would you be watching a mobile broadcast while accessing the service? Currently, if a television company wants to buy the right to broadcast a show, it draws up a contract saying that it is buying the right to broadcast a show on television.

    With DVB-H, the television broadcaster could still argue that the broadcast of his signal to a mobile device is still a television broadcast. At the same time, a mobile operator who has bought the right to broadcast a particular show on its mobile network could also reasonably argue that it has the right to broadcast a particular show via DVB-H.

    The issue becomes particularly tricky with shows whose rights have already been sold separately to mobile and television broadcasters. In these cases, money has already changed hands for these rights and it is very unlikely that television broadcasters or mobile companies would be thrilled at the idea of having shows which they have already paid for being played on a DVB-H platform.

    In 2007, there was reportedly a significant problem in Australia between Channel 9 and Telstra regarding sponsorship of the NRL (National Rugby League) primarily due to their disagreement between who actually owned the right to broadcast to mobile users via DVB-H. By the end of the same year, Cricket Australia faced similar problems as well. One suspects that these aren't the first or last of the problems but what are the solutions?

    From a historical perspective, broadcasters faced a similar problem with the advent of the internet where the term broadcast was only applicable to television broadcasting and wasn't applicable to broadcasting via any other medium (quite simply because no one could envisage anything like the internet).

    There were differences and disputes at that time as well though ultimately broadcast rights were split into three broad categories, i.e., broadband, mobile and television rights. DVB-H is challenging that classification again, though possibly to a lesser, more nuanced degree.

    As for the solutions, it is imperative that rights holders must ensure that future technologies are excluded from the rights that they are granting. What this means is that, as a producer of a show if you have agreed to give a particular channel the right to show your programme on television only, then you must ensure that your contract also says that they cannot show the programme on any other medium whether now known or invented in the future.

    If future technologies have not been excluded, then rights holders need to speak with broadcasters and mobile operators to whom they have licenced these rights to ensure that they are in the clear insofar as the DVB-H platform is concerned.

    There will likely be instances where rights holders cannot renegotiate their contracts, in which case they would have to wait for their existing contracts to expire or risk litigation if they wish to take advantage of DVB-H. Like with all technology it never hurts to be a little careful in the beginning. DVB-H is no different.

    For more info on The Rights Lawyers, go to www.therightslawyers.com

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