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ORGANIZING ESPORTS TOURNAMENT IN INDIA- A LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

December 10, 2021

By Vikrant Rana and Rupin Chopra

Esports essentially refers to video games played as a part of a tournament or competition, while competing against other players or teams. With time, esports have become a part of the mainstream sporting environment. However, unlike other sports, at present there exists no National Sports Federation (“NSF”) regulating esports in India.

Section 12 of the Public Gambling Act, 1876, exempts the act’s applicability to ‘games of skill’. Esports majorly depends on the skills of the players which therefore, excludes it from the purview of the Public Gambling Act and the State Legislations. The Government of India has also recognized esports as an emerging discipline based on skill and acknowledged its dissimilarity from gambling.[1]

Organizing an Esports Tournament

In India, esports are mostly pushed by publishers who collaborate with organizers or sponsors to promote their titles. Because of the nature of their vested intellectual property rights as the owners, the publishers have a considerable say in how the games are organized in an event. Some publishers may provide for an open ecosystem where the publishers themselves organize the game on their platform or give free access to other third parties to organize a tournament. Counter Strike: Global Offensive by Valve is one such example. On the other hand, some publishers partner with different gaming platforms to conduct these tournament in a closed ecosystem. Such franchised esports tournament are only accessible by players who are members of such franchises. Ultimately, although the competitions framework is determined by the organisers, the sort of ecosystem is determined by the publishers.

Requirements for conducting Esports Tournament

Intellectual Property Rights License

Long hours of programming, source code development, artwork and visual design, among other things, go into developing these esports, all of which must be safeguarded in some way. This includes the following aspects of IPR:

  1. Copyright- In order to make use of the copyrights of the publisher, vested in the game, such as artworks, sound, audiovisuals as well as the underlying source coding, the organizer must obtain a copyright license from the publisher so as to exploit the benefits of the said elements when organizing a tournament.[2]
  2. Trademarks- Trademarks acts as a source of identification of the game’s origin and its developers. Name of the game, taglines, sound mark and so are some of the elements that are protected under the law of trademark. The organizer should enter into a licensing agreement with the publisher so as to be qualified as the registered user of the mark being used.[3]

Government Approval/ License

The format of esports can either be offline or a physical tournaments held in stadium, arena, etc., or entirely online.

It is pertinent to be noted that in the absence of laws regulating esports, no government licensing requirements for organizing esports tournament has been explicitly laid down. However, mandatory licensing is required for opening gaming parlors that would conduct esports within it physical purview. The laws regulating gaming parlors falls within the purview of the State government and so, the license is to be acquired from the concerned Police Department or Municipal Corporation. For instance, in Delhi, a person desiring to instate a video game parlor shop, must mandatorily acquire a license under the Regulations for Licensing and Controlling Places of Public Amusement (Other than Cinemas) and Performances of Public Amusement (Amendment) Rules, 1991. Similarly in Maharashtra as well as Karnataka, acquiring a license for setting up gaming parlors is a must under the Bombay Police Act, 1951[4] and the Karnataka Police Act, 1963,[5] respectively. In Kolkata, such establishments must get an approval from the Amusement Department under Kolkata Municipal Corporation.[6]

Other Laws Governing Different Aspects Of E-Sports

  1. Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) – The Code unequivocally prohibits sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition, or circulation of any obscene objects and penalizes any person who engages, advertises, promotes, offers, or attempts to do obscene activity.[7]
  2. Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) – The IT Act regulates the electronic publication or transmission of information of scandalous/obscene nature and also penalizes the same.[8]
  3. Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Information) Rules, 2011 (“SPDI Rules”)[9] – At present, the primary law regulating collection, processing and transfer of personal information or sensitive personal data and information is the SPDI Rules. These rules can be applied to entities collection third party information for the purpose of organizing esports tournaments.
  4. Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021[10] These Rules, read with the IT Act, penalizes the publication or transmission of any obscene content or sexually explicit material in electronic form, including child pornography, or any other act that violates any law for the time being in force.
  5. Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (“PMLA”)[11] This statute regulates anti–money laundering and bodies organizing games for cash or kind.
  6. The Advertising Standards Council of India Code (“ASCI Code”) – The code regulates advertisements as opposed to public policy. Chapter III of the ASCI Code, out rightly prohibits advertisements for any product, the use of which is banned under the law, or advertisements that present criminal conduct as appropriate or encourages people to imitate it.
  7. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 (“IRW Act”)[12] The IRW Act prohibits indecent representation of women in any form.
  8. Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956- This act describes ‘harmful publication’ a publication glorifying any acts of violence or commission of offences, which would eventually incite young minds to resort to crimes.[13] A person who sells, hires, distributes, exhibits, circulates, prints, possesses, or advertises any harmful publication, can be booked under the act.[14]

Also refer:

India: Esports players are legit sports athletes

To know more about Gaming and Sports Law in India, read below:

Gaming and Sports Laws in India

[1] http://loksabhaph.nic.in/Questions/QResult15.aspx?qref=19210&lsno=17

[2] Chapter VI, the Copyright Act, 1957.

[3] Section 48, the Trade Marks Act, 1999.

[4] In accordance with Licensing and Controlling Places of Public Amusement (other than Cinemas) and Performances for Public Amusement including Pool game Parlours, Amusement Parlours providing Computer Games, Virtual Reality Games, Cyber Cafes, Games with net, internet or intranet connectivity, Bowling Alleys, Card Rooms, Social Clubs, Sports Clubs, Cabaret performances, Discotheque, Games, Melas and Tamashas (First Amendment) Rules, 2006.

[5] Section 31 (w) (i), the Karnataka Police Act, 1963.

[6] Section 421, Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980.

[7] Section 292, the India Penal Code, 1860.

[8] Section 67, the Information Technology Act, 2000.

[9] https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/GSR313E_10511%281%29_0.pdf

[10] https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_and_Digital_Media_Ethics_Code_Rules-2021.pdf

[11] https://dea.gov.in/sites/default/files/moneylaunderingact.pdf

[12]https://wcd.nic.in/act/indecent-representation-women#:~:text=THE%20INDECENT%20REPRESENTATION%20OF%20WOMEN,connected%20therewith%20or%20incidental%20thereto.

[13] Section 2 (a), Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956.

[14] Section 3,  Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956.

Anushka Choudhary, Intern at S.S. Rana & Co. has assisted in the research of this article.

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