Rario's Cricket NFT Case Against MPL & Striker: A Comprehensive Review

The advancement of blockchain technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and virtual digital assets has led to growing apprehension about the multitude of legal and ethical dilemmas that could arise from their development and their potential impact on the legal rights of individuals.

The Delhi High Court recently deliberated on the relationship between generative AI and personality rights in Digital Collectibles Pte. Ltd. and Ors. vs Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited and Anr. [CS (COMM) 108/2023]. In this case, the court declined to issue a temporary injunction against the gaming platforms Mobile Premier League (MPL) & Striker for using the name and likeness of certain cricketers to create Non-Fungible Token (NFT) – enabled “Digital Player Cards”.  

Non-Fungible Tokens under Copyright Law

NFTs are distinct digital assets that leverage blockchain technology to validate ownership and are frequently utilised for trading digital art and collectables. Nevertheless, an ongoing discussion revolves around the intellectual property rights tied to NFTs and the question of whether acquiring an NFT bestows copyright ownership.

On the other hand, Online Fantasy Sports (OFS) involve participants creating virtual teams of real-life athletes and competing based on their performance in real sports events. The users pay an entry fee to join and use their skills to participate in online events or leagues. Under prevailing copyright laws, purchasing an NFT does not automatically convey the legal right to claim copyright in the artwork unless a separate commercial agreement is established to that effect. In the instant matter, an OFS platform created NFT-enabled “Digital Player Cards” (DPCs) featuring the names and likenesses of certain cricketers. These digital assets could be owned and traded by users on the blockchain.

Case Overview

Digital Collectibles Pte. Ltd. (Plaintiff No. 1 here) owns and operates ‘Rario’, a digital collectables platform based on NFTs. The platform facilitates selling, purchasing, and trading officially licensed DPCs featuring cricketers. As well-known cricketers, Plaintiff Nos. 2 to 6 granted Plaintiff No. 1 an exclusive license to utilise their names and photographs on the Rario platform.

These DPCs contain names, photographs, and other personality traits of cricketers which are bought, sold, and traded for actual currency on Rario, utilising Rario’s private blockchain. The price of each DPC is determined by the demand and supply for the specific DPC, which is, in turn, influenced by the popularity and renown of the respective cricketers.

Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited (Defendant No.1) is the proprietor and operator of the online fantasy sports platform called MPL, while Defendant No. 2 is the proprietor and operator of the mobile application ‘Striker’, listed on the MPL. Like Rario, Striker users can purchase, sell, and trade DPCs and Striker also utilises NFT technology to authenticate the DPCs on its platform.

In February 2023, a suit was filed before the Delhi High Court against the defendants for using players’ names, images and other attributes (including those of Plaintiff Nos. 2 to 6) on their platforms without obtaining the players’ authorisation or license.

Right to Publicity vis-à-vis Freedom of Speech and Expression

The plaintiffs asserted that the value of the DPCs, considered digital art collectables, is primarily derived from and dependent on the names, likenesses, and other elements associated with the cricketers whose DPCs are offered on the Striker platform. Moreover, they relied on precedents set forth by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in D.M. Entertainment Pvt Ltd v Baby Gift House & Ors [MANU/DE/2043/2010] and Titan Industries v M/s Ram Kumar Jewellers [(2012) 50 PTC 486], to contend that the Striker DPCs are an unauthorised endorsement and violated the plaintiffs’ publicity rights.

In reply to the plaintiffs’ contention, the court remarked that while Indian courts have acknowledged the existence of celebrity personality rights, these rights are not absolute and must be weighed within the context of the common law principle of “passing off” and in accordance with the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

The Single Judge Bench of Justice Amit Bansal opined that the right to publicity was subordinate to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution and noted that the “Right to publicity”, i.e., the right to control the commercial use of one’s identity and personality, is not absolute or unrestricted.

The celebrity’s right to publicity is only violated when using their name or image is intended to mislead the public into believing that they are endorsing and associated with the product in question. In such instances, it can be said that the celebrity’s goodwill and reputation have been misused to promote a product or service.

Use of Artwork with Creative Elements

The court highlighted that the DPCs of the defendants include artwork of the players, not photographs, and this artwork was determined to have creative elements that set them apart from the actual images of the players since the defendants have shown their expression through these creations rather than utilising celebrities’ likenesses directly. These innovative features and creative caricatures were held to be protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Players’ Information Available in Public Domain

The defendants expressed that the content used for DPCs on the Striker platform is in the public domain, which served the purpose of identifying the cricketers on the platform; thus, it is beyond the scope of those cricketers’ personality rights. It was further stated that the platform is categorised as an OFS game, which does not offer the ability to purchase and “own” cricket moments (a key feature of the plaintiffs’ licensed DPCs). The defendants asserted that their DPCs could not be traded or used outside the Striker platform as they are inherently linked to the user experience and format of the Striker platform and highlighted the usage of players’ names and other information in a similar manner is common in other OFS games, demonstrating an established industry practice.

The defendants also cited the decision of U.S. Courts in CBC Distrib. & Mktg. v Major League Baseball Advanced [505 F. 3d 959] and Daniels v Fan Duel Inc [109 N.E. 3d 390], to support their argument that if the information and facts regarding certain celebrities which the defendants use are already publicly available, there can be no valid claim for infringement of publicity rights.

The court noted that OFS operators use publicly available player names and images to identify players. Thus, the court ruled that no one can own information in the public domain and such information can’t be monopolised or licensed. Since public domain facts cannot be monopolised, a third party’s use or publication for commercial gain cannot afford the plaintiffs a cause of action. With respect to the remedies available for an aggrieved celebrity, the court only cited defamation as a resort. 

Accordingly, the Hon’ble Court held that the plaintiffs failed to make out a case for the grant of an interim injunction[1] and effectively gave the go-ahead to Striker as it is not a ‘trading platform’ like Rario per se and does not mislead customers regarding any affiliation with or endorsement and does not violate any right of Digital Collectibles. Based on this, the matter has been listed for completion of pleadings on July 10, 2023.

Order of Single Judge Bench Challenged

Indian cricketers, including Mohammed Siraj, Harshal Patel, and Rario, have challenged the above interim order of the Single Judge Bench through appeals filed before the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court. The appellants lay emphasis on the players’ absolute rights over their persona and argued that there is a misunderstanding as to when fair use ends and confidentiality begins. The Bench has instructed the parties to submit written statements within a week and scheduled the next hearing on July 10, 2023.


In the abovementioned case, the Delhi High Court has recognised that the test for determining the infringement of the right to publicity aligns with the principles and standards of the tort of passing off. It is now clear that the right to publicity is violated when a third party employs a celebrity’s information, trait, or attribute in a manner that is likely to cause confusion.

The recent appeal against the order of the Single Judge Bench is a testament to the brunt faced by celebrities when Online Fantasy Sports platforms utilise their images to entice audiences. The position of the Hon’ble Court is yet to be determined; however, the mere incidental or transformative use of a celebrity’s name, image, etc. in connection with a product or service cannot be said to be an infringement of the right to publicity. This order has provided precision to Indian jurisprudence on the right to publicity while also emphasising the need to strike a balance between justly enforcing the right to publicity and upholding the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.

Additionally, the court’s decision has the potential to influence the approach of Indian courts in addressing the incorporation of emerging and advanced technologies in our everyday lives. As this field of law is still developing, it remains to be seen whether the Indian judiciary will embrace this trend of engaging with novel concepts.


[1] I.A. 3960/2023

Image Credits:

Photo by Aksonov: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEJTBLx3xI-cricket-on-laptop-live-broadcast/

The court noted that OFS operators use publicly available player names and images to identify players. Thus, the court ruled that no one can own information in the public domain and such information can’t be monopolised or licensed. Since public domain facts cannot be monopolised, a third party’s use or publication for commercial gain cannot afford the plaintiffs a cause of action. With respect to the remedies available for an aggrieved celebrity, the court only cited defamation as a resort.