Racetrack Betting Drones Do Not Violate Copyright Law, Says UK Government

Posted on: December 15, 2021, 09:07h. 

Last updated on: December 15, 2021, 11:40h.

The UK government currently has no plans to prohibit the controversial use of drones around horse racing and other sporting events. That’s because they do not infringe copyright law.

betting drones
A drone’s-eye-view of a horse race in the UK. Not only do drone streams give bettors up to a two-second edge, but they also give them a wider picture of the race developing. (Image: The Times)

That’s according to Lord Callaghan, parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department of Business, who was responding to questions in the House of Lords, the UK’s upper house.

Callaghan said that such a measure might be considered “if the businesses concerned were able to make a better case for government action, backed by persuasive data.”

What Are Racetrack Drones?

The sight of high-specification drones hovering above UK racetracks has become increasingly common in recent years. The machines typically belong to enterprising live streamers, who broadcast the races to paying gamblers eager to gain an edge.

The streams can be delivered up to two seconds faster than traditional broadcasts because the mobile phones employed for streaming use a higher-spectrum frequency. 

Those two seconds represent a lifetime in the world of in-play betting, allowing gamblers to place bets on late runners, for example. The aerial view also gives bettors a wider picture of how a race is developing, which other bettors cannot see.

According to The Racing Post, in many cases, the drones are some of the most expensive on the market and are loaded with the best high-definition cameras. They are often controlled by qualified airplane pilots.

Follow the Money

Despite claims by racetracks that drones infringe their broadcast and intellectual property rights, the practice is currently not illegal in the UK.

“[S]porting performances are not considered intellectual creations, since the rules of sport leave only limited room for real creative freedom,” Callaghan noted.

Earlier in the debate, Viscount Astor demanded an amendment to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to include sports events.

Rogue operators are selling live pictures at a discount, and sporting bodies are losing out from the resulting diminution of their media income. This means that, when they have to renegotiate media rights, they will be offered less,” he said.

Astor acknowledged that you cannot ban people from filming, but urged the government to “follow the money” and to stop those who sell the images on.

No Link to Illegal Gambling

He was backed by prominent racehorse owner Lord Lipsey, who said the droners’ actions were responsible for the growth of illegal gambling.

Callaghan countered that the UK Gambling Commission had found no evidence that this was the case.

He added that under UK law, the copyright on sports footage belongs to the person who filmed it. To change that would represent a problematic reversal of the law that would not be a proportionate response to the drone issue.