Numbers up for Seven Network's suit


SYDNEY - The Seven Network has comprehensively lost the seven year old legal case it brought against 17 of Australia's major media companies, when Federal Court judge, Justice Ronald Sackville Friday  ruled against Seven's allegations of anti-competitive conduct by its rivals over the acquisition of pay TV sports rights in 1999.

In Australia's largest corporate case, that's estimated to have cost over AUS$200 million ($172 million) to date, Seven had sought damages of up to AUS$480 million ($413 million) from companies including News Corp., Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd, Telstra Corp. and Foxtel.

Seven alleged that its pay TV arm, C7 had been driven out of business, after its rivals had colluded to deprive Seven of access to pay TV rights to the two key Australian football competitions, the National Rugby League (NRL) and the Australian Football League (AFL).
After 10 months of deliberation Justice Sackville dismissed all of Sevens claims, saying that Seven was the "author of its own misfortune".

"Seven was far from a helpless victim in the face of the allegedly anti-competitive conduct of which it complained," Justice Sackville said, in a 30-minute summary of his judgment which was, unusually for a federal court case, carried live on Sky News Australia.

In his summary of the judgment, which runs to 1230 pages, Sackville was scathing in his remarks to all the parties for allowing the "mega litigation" to take place, calling the AUS$200 million ($172 million) that the parties have spent on the case as "extraordinarily wasteful" and "bordering on the scandalous."

He found that Seven had been unable to prove that its rivals conspired to "kill off' its pay TV channel C7 by colluding on pay TV sports right and rejected Seven's allegations of anti-competitive conduct by News, Foxtel and PBL. The judge has asked for further submission from the parties on costs.

Justice Sackville warned Seven and other parties against appealing his judgment and urged the parties, not for the first time in the case, to "bring these protracted and excessively expensive proceedings to a conclusion by mutual agreement."

Seven has been working on the case for the last seven years and initially claimed damages of over A$1 billion ($860 million), which was whittled down to AUS $212 million ($182 million) plus interest over during the court hearings.

The hearings, which started in November 2005, lasted 120 days with 44 witnesses called, while submissions amounted to over 85,000 documents.

Comments from the parties involved were not available.