In a recent landmark judgment the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Local Division, Johannesburg declared that the fixture lists compiled by the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for its annual and weekly fixtures are subject to copyright protection as afforded by the South African Copyright Act.
The defendants, Gidani (Proprietary) Limited, South Africa’s licensed national lottery operator, had for many years been reproducing without authority the PSL’s fixture lists as part of its “SportStake” gambling offering in which members of the public were invited to bet on the results of PSL games. Betting on football fixtures generates approximately R 300 000 000 per annum in revenues for Gidani.
The PSL argued that the unauthorised reproduction by Gidani of its annual and weekly fixtures as part of the “SportStake” gaming offering amounted to breach of copyright.
The High Court upheld the PSL’s argument and found that the fixture lists were “original literary works” as defined in the Copyright Act and were therefore subject to copyright protection. Fixture lists are classified as original literary works because they are the product of an author’s exercise of skill and judgment and their compilation is not “so trivial as to be characterised as a purely mechanical exercise”. The compilation of annual and weekly fixture lists is a complex process which begins at the beginning of each season. The process, aided by a computer program, involves three complex stages, each of which entails skill, individual judgment, ingenuity and the “sweat of brow” of the authors of the fixture lists. On this basis they qualify as original literary works.
The court rejected the defendant’s constitutional argument that copyright protection cannot be afforded to a literary work whose purpose was to inform a wide public interested in South African football of the games to be played. The court was of the view that the defendant could not equate itself with members of the public in that broad sense.
The High Court’s judgment has created a valuable asset for Football Leagues in their fixture lists, as they can now enjoy considerable royalties from licensing the right to reproduce fixture lists for the purpose of gaming.