In a very positive development for Chinese football sports leagues, CCTV, Tencent, NBA, as well as Olympic and other international sports competitions in China, the Chaoyang basic level court in Beijing determined on June 30 that live broadcasting of a sports competition is sufficiently creative to be protectable under China’s copyright law in Sina v. iFeng（2014）朝民（知）初字第40334号). The case can be found here in Chinese. The key language of the case with my very informal translation is as follows:
In the present case the Internet company Sina raised an issue involving the presentation of broadcast screens (pictures) and their status as works under the copyright law. In accordance with the law, protected works must be original intellectual achievements that can be replicated in some tangible form. The key factor for this court in determining whether the broadcast of a live competition was original is the broadcast screen. Originality means independently created, which is to say that it does not imitate the work of others or is a copy.
In broadcasting a competitive event, from the point of view of the overall production, the event broadcast and record production involves shooting by setting several or several dozens of unfixed or fixed recording equipment as the basis to film and record to a final picture for the user or audience to see the final picture. However a fixed position does not mean a fixed picture. The picture that the user sees is not completely the same as taking place on the field, and it does not proceed completely or fully synchronized. This explains that the broadcast production process is not just a record of events, …
In this regard, although there is no provision on legal standards of originality, but it should be understood that the choice of lens for recording events, editing, a new screen for viewing the picture, is undoubtedly a creative work, and the creation of different options and different productions, will produce a different picture of the effect that precisely reflects its originality. The formation of the picture of the sporting event constitute originality under the Copyright Law of China and should be recognized as a work. From the perspective of this case, the picture screens presented satisfy the requirements of originality not only in their filming and production, but also in the auditory and visual style which thereby gives a final result of audio and visual sensations, thereby constituting a work.
The case may be appealed to the Beijing IP Court. Damages of 500,000 RMB were assessed, plus costs and an injunction.
Update from August 6, 2015: here’s the case in English language translation.
Update from March 11, 2016: Here’s a link to an article on a proposal by an official from Le TV to the NPC and CPCC on protecting copyright in sports broadcasts. The focus of the proposal is to strengthen sports competition intellectual property protection and promote the healthy development of China’s sports industries (“加强体育赛事知识产权保护 促进我国体育产业健康发展”). The first element of the proposal is to adopt the international standard of using copyright law to protect sports broadcasts as a “work”, which the author notes is available under US copyright law and has been recognized by nearly all European countries, according to a study from the University of Amsterdam (See Section 1.4.1).
How creative is the professional sports broadcast to merit copyright protection. The video below from an NFL game gives some indication of what is involved. (updated September 1, 2016 with this video).