I am returning home after a long journey. The airport from which I am leaving is spacious, air conditioned and new. There are power outlets and free WiFi to use, whilst the security checks I have just been through were as thorough as any European or US airport.
I am leaving India.
At CricInfo, we centred much of our operations in Chennai and I was a frequent visitor to India in the 1990s. Back then it was not uncommon to see cycle rickshaws, beggars with literally no clothing at all and streets that had more foot, bicycle and animal traffic than cars. Western–style hotels were few and far between, extremely expensive and a challenge to operate in conditions in which the normal amenities one found in the developed world were scarce.
Fifteen years later, top-class hotels are plentiful. The prices have halved and the road to the airport is a smooth 6 lane divided highway with reflective lane markings. As we drive, I see ATMs, late model cars, smart phones… Much of India has left the third world behind. Sustained and strong economic growth for more than a decade has yielded visible and obvious dividends.
Most importantly, the clientele in the Indian-owned, top-class hotels used to be almost entirely white European. Not any more. Now there is a burgeoning Indian middle class who also can afford to have a drink by the poolside and are not content to be treated as if they were still in the third-world. It is now the foreigners who are in the minority.
The largest democracy in the world, India, has moved on as a country, and yet the BCCI runs cricket like a dictator of a third-world banana republic.
For those who haven’t been following, and I thank Vishal Misra for alerting me, the BCCI is threatening the live scorecard. It is supporting a law suit targeted directly at CricInfo aimed at preventing Indian live coverage. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but it should be. The live scorecard is the core of cricket on the internet and the internet is vital to all of our futures, whether we are shopping for groceries, or finding the best school for our kids. It is vital to any business, sport or past-time which wants to survive in the 21st century. Using the internet to attract and satisfy current and new fans is vital to cricket.
The law suit is aimed directly at CricInfo, preventing it from bringing you live coverage whilst other sites are not restricted. The dispute is over so-called “data rights’, a fabrication that appears dubious at best and Machiavellian at worst. Its clear intent is to disable CricInfo and fragment internet cricket into small and powerless warring tribes.
If that sounds familiar, it should. It is known as divide and rule and is how a small Northern European country ruled India for generations.
At the risk of rambling, let me tell you a little bit about CricInfo.
CricInfo was born as a collaborative venture. Its central tenet was inclusiveness. I would implore, invite, enable, motivate, cajole the many who commented anything along the lines of “I wish you had [info on]…” to do it themselves and contribute to the whole. My often-heard refrain was “if you don’t do it, who do you expect to?” When I saw a spark out there, I reached out and tried to include it, not squash it, because there was a cricket fan who’s love of the game spilled over into trying to create something.
That is the heart of CricInfo. Collaborate, encourage, provide in order to bring us, the fans, the information we crave as quickly, as completely and as well as we possibly could. Over 20 years, that adds up to quite some expertise from an organization focused on nothing else than the game we love.
And yet the BCCI is trying to squash CricInfo (and in due course other sites), even to the extent of trying to “own” the score. That is the opposite of CricInfo and the opposite of the interests of the cricket fans.
CricInfo today is a phenomenal resource and asset to the game of cricket. It is the combined effort of literally thousands of fans in almost every country in the world, as well as, at various times, the ICC and most of the world’s cricket boards. As CricInfo’s founder, I am proud of it and eternally grateful to those who helped build it. Much more importantly as a cricket fan, I am proud that my sport has a resource that other sports can only dream of.
Let’s take a look at these “data rights”. The BCCI contend that a live score is proprietary, meaning that only those it licenses can convey the current score.
Stock market data is proprietary. When you subscribe to live stock market data, you sign an agreement stating that you agree to it being proprietary. This allows you access to a direct live feed either from a reseller or from the exchange itself. However once a price is broadcast, it is in the public domain. I could sit on the end of a phone commenting on share prices which I read off a TV screen, or scrape it off a web page anytime and anywhere I like. The drawback to that is that subscribers to stock market data for the public domain typically delay it for anything up to 20 minutes; the price is not live. In this world of high frequency trading, that is a problem for many fund managers who pay hefty fees for the fastest feed available. Trade time frames can be in microseconds and soon nanoseconds.
Perhaps the BCCI wants every one of the hundreds of millions of people watching in India and worldwide to sign a “Cricket watching contract” in which every cricket spectator agrees not to provide any live information about the game to anyone? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t signed any such contract and I can and will read and comment on anything that is in public domain anytime and anywhere I like. That includes the weather report, the price of Disney shares, Wikileaks and, oh yes, the cricket.
What I cannot do is do it from the ground (equivalent to hooking into the live stock market feed). The BCCI does indeed have a right to restrict access to the ground and also to restrict what happens inside the ground. For that, broadcasters pay a hefty fee. (By the way, I recently discovered that CricInfo – the largest cricket media organization in the world – is denied press accreditation by the BCCI. How crazy is that?)
Instead of a “cricket watching contract”, perhaps the BCCI could require broadcasters to delay the television and radio feeds by, say, 20 minutes and sell individual bookmakers and billionaires the right to live data just like the stock market. The BCCI would be totally within its rights to do so. You’d be happy then, right? I suspect the broadcasters might have some choice words about it too. It’s absurd.
Oh, and don’t ask your mother what the score is when you phone home. The NSA might report her to the BCCI if she responds.
In the developed world, this lawsuit would be classed as frivolous and lead to counter-claims for punitive damages. Much of India has left the third world, but unfortunately not all and the BCCI is un-ashamedly using heavy-handed colonial-era methods to squash the creations of fans and damage the game. Of course, those who think they are the rulers in a third-world banana-republic couldn’t care less and will make up the rules as they go along. Rules like “data rights”, for example.
Did the British rule India because they loved India, or was it to make itself rich on the proceeds? The arrogance of it is breath-taking. It’s not about helping Indian cricket fans, or cricket itself. Just ownership and power.
Threatening the live scorecard threatens cricket’s popularity, reach and future.
And without fans, where is the BCCI?
Perhaps we should be asking: Without the BCCI, where are the fans?
Because without cricket, where are we all?
If you think the cricket score can not be “owned” (by the BCCI or anyone), sign Vishal’s petition. Talk to your congressman. Get involved. This issue is bigger than vultures wanting to kill innovation so they can pick at the corpse. Wake Up India! And refuse to be treated like this.
Unless you’d rather have cricket’s live scorecard – internet cricket’s life blood – at the mercy of Generalissimos with delusions of ability?
Because if that is the case, “Faster punkawallah! The BCCI is by the pool side and their martinis are getting warm.”
Dr. Simon King