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Telstra Tackles The Big Men
Lisa Murray,

Telstra is suing its business partners, the Murdoch and Packer camps, in a messy battle over rugby league broadcasting rights.

Telstra claims Fox Sports, which is jointly owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and James Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting Limited, has refused to stop making lengthy highlights available on its website and via mobile phone, breaching Telstra's $90 million six-year rights agreement with the NRL.

Telstra is seeking an urgent ruling from the Federal Court to restrict Fox Sports to using only limited footage for news reports, pending a full trial on the matter, according to its statement of claim lodged with the court yesterday.

Telstra said no more than 45 seconds of footage from each match should be shown as part of a news report and it should only be available for 24 hours from the end of a match. It is seeking unspecified damages for profits lost.

The Fox Sports website last night included a link to a video news report of the Monday night match between Canberra and Newcastle, which included almost two minutes of game highlights. Fox Sports also provides highlights to Hutchison's 3 mobile phones.

"The extent and manner of use of NRL match footage by Fox Sports and News Digital Media [News Corp's online arm] cannot be considered "fair dealing" and as such infringes Telstra's exclusive rights," a spokesman for the company said in a statement sent to the Herald.

"This conduct … clearly devalues Telstra's major investment in the game and leaves us with no alternative but to take legal action to protect our rights."

The legal action has further exposed the uneasy alliance that sits behind the country's biggest pay TV operator Foxtel. Telstra owns 50 per cent of Foxtel, News owns 25 per cent and has the power to appoint the CEO and PBL owns 25 per cent.

There is already tension among the business partners as Foxtel only became profitable last year after 10 years of losses, while Fox Sports - which sells its sports channels to Foxtel - has been a money-spinner for PBL and News for years.

Telstra's case has echoes of the Seven Network's lawsuit against Telstra, News and PBL over football rights for pay TV. A judgement is expected in July.

In the Seven case, evidence was heard of a fierce battle in the late 1990s between Telstra and Fox Sports over the price Fox Sports charged Foxtel for its programming.

A spokesman for Fox Sports was unavailable to comment.