Out-Law News 2 min. read
02 Jun 2023, 2:21 pm
Sports bodies and owners of broadcast rights for sports events should invest in monitoring for illegal streaming and consider the options they have for enforcing their rights against infringers in the context of their commercial objectives, according to experts in dispute resolution and brand protection in the sports sector.
Julian Diaz-Rainey and Tom Nener of Pinsent Masons were commenting after five men were imprisoned for selling cut-price illegal streaming packages for Premier League games. The operation was estimated to have generated £7 million, with 50,000 subscribers. One of the men was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Major sporting events – such as the World Athletics Championships, the Olympics and Premier League fixtures – and popular films are often the target of illegal streaming. According to the intellectual property protection organisation FACT, incidents of illegal film streaming increased almost threefold during lockdown.
Illegal streaming is the streaming of films, or premium sporting events without the copyright owner’s permission. It is done through a variety of means, whether that be via a dedicated illegal streaming website, on social media platforms or through the use of physical boxes or USB devices.
The scale of the problem is huge, and in April 2021 finder.com reported that over six million people in the UK had streamed illegal content in the previous three months, with 21% of the content being sports events or games.
A dedicated team, together with monitoring software, should be put in place to search for and identify illegal streams during the course of a broadcast. As a minimum, major social media platforms, illegal streaming websites and apps should all be monitored
Organisations such as World Athletics and the Premier League sell the broadcasting rights to the event or games to broadcasters, and they can also be made available through dedicated channels on social media platforms. Selling broadcasting rights for events represents a major source of income for those organisations – the Premier League signed a broadcasting rights extension to 2025 for a reported £5.1 billion. Illegal streaming deprives the sports organisation of valuable revenue, and in 2019 an independent report produced by GumGum Sports and MUSO estimated the cost of illegal streaming to the Premier League as £1 million per game.
Illegal streaming also causes reputational risk for intellectual property owners because illegal streaming sites are often used as a vehicle for installing malware on devices and for the theft of personal log in data.
Julian Diaz-Rainey said: “The fact that custodial sentences were imposed in this case demonstrates both the scale of the problem, and how seriously the courts take illegal streaming, with huge amounts of revenue lost by sports clubs, governing bodies and media companies.”
Tom Nener said there are various options open to sports organisations and owners of sports broadcasting rights to address illegal streaming.
Nener said: “A dedicated team, together with monitoring software, should be put in place to search for and identify illegal streams during the course of a broadcast. As a minimum, major social media platforms, illegal streaming websites and apps should all be monitored. Once infringements have been identified, a cost-effective removal procedure should be implemented through filing takedown notices on social media platforms and against infringing websites and apps.”
“Data from the infringements should be collected and analysed so that enforcement options can be considered against the main infringers. Enforcement action can then be taken against any identified individuals who sell illegal streaming devices, which can lead to fines and, as we have seen recently, imprisonment. Court orders known as ‘blocking orders’ that require internet service providers to block customers’ access to servers that are hosting illegal streams are also an option. All enforcement action should meet a clear commercial objective and therefore return of investment should be tracked for the benefit of key commercial partners,” he said.
Pinsent Masons has developed a brand protection platform, Alteria, which allows organisations to monitor a brand online and enables takedown requests to be made to global online marketplaces and social media platforms at the click of a button.
24 May 2023