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Football and Copyright Law

John Simkin

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Interesting article about football and copyright law:


With the season of comfort, joy and compulsive over-eating almost upon us it is sad to report that the troubling case of the Watford Two still rumbles on. Ian Grant and Matthew Rowson argue they are guilty of nothing more than the words in the title of their Watford fanzine website, which Grant, 35, a web designer, launched in December 1994. The internet was then in its rapid ascendant; Watford, it would be fair to say, were not. Grant saw a band play in Brighton and decided its name encapsulated perfectly the Watford fan's existence: Blind, Stupid and Desperate.

Rowson, 32, a statistician by profession and lifelong Watford fan, began to contribute to www.bsad.org seven years ago and the pair, co-editors now, spend a difficult-to-justify amount of time maintaining the site's fond, ironic chronicling of life with the Hornets. They make no money from it; in fact it costs them £60 for an internet server. They have produced a book and some T-shirts but donated the proceeds to charity or, when the club was in financial crisis in 2002, to the supporters' trust.

So when, at the beginning of this season, the site received what Grant and Rowson felt were threatening legal letters demanding the removal of offensive content they were shocked. They refused, their server was contacted and BSaD was taken off the internet until Grant and Rowson backed down. The heinous material that caused the problems? Watford FC's fixtures for 2005-06. "We were extremely surprised and did feel bullied," Rowson says. "We do the fanzine for the love of writing about football, with about 1,000 regular hits weekly. We never thought the outside world was even aware of us."

That was reckoning without the keen commercial enforcers at DataCo. This is a company owned by the Premier and Football Leagues, whose job is to charge for publication of the fixture lists, as well as the increasing volume of other data, including match statistics, to which the clubs claim copyright. The operation makes £7m-£8m for English and Scottish professional clubs, paid by 22,000 newspapers, bookmakers, websites and broadcasters here and worldwide. The fee is standard: £266 plus VAT to print the fixtures of one English club. Newspapers printing the fixtures of all clubs, plus a delivery fee, pay around £6,000 plus VAT to DataCo. BSaD, oblivious, printing their own club's forthcoming fixtures, were asked for £266 plus VAT or told they must take them down.

"It was farcical," Rowson says. "With all the time and money I'm already spending on the fanzine, can you imagine me telling my wife I'm about to spend £266 for the right to print Watford's fixtures? It was never going to happen."

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