June 22nd, 1998.

In the net!

I am not a soccer fan, not even slightly. But even I, despite all my efforts, haven't been able to avoid the World Cup, or as it's being branded, 'France 98'. Only someone on another planet (or perhaps in the United States.. mind you that is a different planet isn't it!?) would have been able to escape the distant strains of a television commentator reeling off an endless succession of footballers' names that all seem to end in 'io'.

But we're already quite a bit into the World Cup and so far I have managed to remain surprisingly clueless about the whole thing. I don't even know how long it's been going on! All I do know is that England plays Argentina this Tuesday and that the British fans only have a ticket allocation of 2000 for that game. (In a stadium that seats 70,000). If I were asked to bet on who would win the whole damn thing... Well, I'd say Brazil or Argentina. Why, well because they always seem to win, don't they... Don't they?

The negotiations for the media rights to 'France 98' all began 11 years ago. Back then no one had an inkling that the medium that brings you 'meanwhile' would be in existence. The internet was then called (if I am not mistaken) the ARPAnet, and it was pretty much the property of universities and those conspiring chaps in the US military.

TV companies, radio stations, and advertisers alike all paid out billions for the privilege of covering and advertising in the worldwide football feeding frenzy that would certainly go hand in hand with every goal scored. With the media issue 'in the net' FIFA (the governing body of the sport) only had to make sure everything else went according to plan then rake in the profits.

But hold on, what about the internet? What about all those football fans, news companies, ezine websites, and hobbyists who have put together unofficial 'France 98' websites? Some people (not to mention FIFA) are asking why it is that coverage in the 'traditional' media costs the earth, but coverage on the net seems to be costing no one a penny. (If you discount those companies that have shelled out for costly web designers). Once more the internet is raising questions about the freedom of information and the rights to distribute it all over again.

FIFA has made no official statement regarding the growth of unofficial 'France 98' websites. However, one official was quoted as saying that FIFA was aware that such sites would crop up all over the net in the World Cup period. The information itself is readily available throughout the press so policing the 'unofficial' websites would be an impossible task.

The question remains. Are such sites ripping anyone off.. and if so who? The BBC is among the most hostile protectors of their material. They have shut down many a website that they feel is in breach of their copyright. (Teletubbies and Murray Walker websites to name but two.) They contend, with the mighty legion of highly paid corporate lawyers behind them, that even websites that are about something they own are in breach of copyright. So if you were to write a website, say about the popular cult TV show Dr. Who, and use NONE of their graphics and sounds, you'd still be breaking the law because they own Dr. Who and everything about him.

So who owns the World Cup then? FIFA? (Feel free to answer that because I have no idea) And if indeed FIFA does own the World Cup could they rightfully shut down all the websites that are not officially ordained by them? The same issue could be created using almost anything on the web. Who owns what?

I am however glad to see that FIFA has not been as keen as the BBC to wipe out the enthusiastic work of many online publishers. Sure copyright is an issue that needs to be addressed on the web. But in a world that is becoming smaller by the day, thanks to leaps in technology, such worldwide events like the World Cup are needed to test and feed the medium. When I watch TV I have but 5 channels to choose from. On the web, I have 500,000,000 pages to choose from. I may be terrible at making decisions, but I at least like the freedom to choose.

Well done FIFA. A superb goal as far as I am concerned.