Cable Thai Holding (CTH) is a new TV provider in Thailand. Early this year, the company reached an agreement with Bangkok Bank for a loan of 14 billion baht to finance the acquisition of the broadcast rights in Thailand for the English Premier League. 14 billion baht is roughly 444 million US dollars. After this enormous financing deal, CTH became aware that the Apple App Store is selling applications that allow people to watch English Premier League Matches via their mobile devices in Thailand and other places. CTH is understandably outraged by this blatant violation of its’ intellectual property rights and has sued Apple Inc., Apple South Asia (Thailand) and its executive in the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court and the Criminal Court. CTH is demanding compensation of 100 million baht (around 3 million USD).
CTH purchased these exclusive broadcasting rights with the understanding that they would be the ONLY rights holders in Thailand, and the “Sport Channel” app is a paid application that is denying them of these exclusive rights. Lawyer Lindee Limpivet, who is representing CTH, has said this would cause huge and irreparable damage to CTH. Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Lindee had sent a cease and desist letter to Apple South Asia (Thailand), to which it received no response. CTH is continuously trolling other individuals or businesses who may be illegally infringing on their rights. CTH saw its’ acquisition of the rights to the EPL as a step towards becoming the market leader in pay-TV broadcasting in Thailand. Apparently Apple and its affiliates are comfortable at this point with enabling others to deny CTH’s aspirations of market leadership. Does Apple have any defense in this situation? Is it possible to completely disable all broadcasting right infringement in this age of endless mobile/internet capabilities? Is a sole/exclusive broadcasting right really what it’s supposed to be? Should buyers of these rights receive a discount from the supplier based on the inevitable capture of content?
Photo: MSN money
This presents an interesting question of whether the change in medium allows Apple to get away with this. It depends on what Cable Thai Holding’s contract provided for. CTH paid to have an exclusive right to TV broadcasting, but does mobile streaming fall under this umbrella? Apple might have a defense if CTH’s contract only provided for television rights. Arguably, purchasing an app and streaming from your phone or iPad may not violate CTH’s exclusive broadcasting rights. However, this is an incredibly disingenuous move on the part of the English Premier League. In my mind, exclusive means exclusive, and if CTH paid to be the exclusive provider, they should not be undercut by simply providing the content on a different platform (i.e. phones and other mobile devices).
CTH has a variety of legal claims to pursue. They can move for a total injunction, or they can try and force Apple to pay licensing rights to distribute the sports content. Given what CTH paid for the rights, I’m actually surprised they are only asking for 100 million baht ($3M USD). Apple surely has the money, and for them, it’s most likely worth it to just pay up to avoid more conflict. Given Apple’s $422 Billion market cap, 3 million USD is practically nothing.