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20 March 2019

New waves in the battle against piracy of sports rights

Recent developments continue to demonstrate the ups and downs in the ongoing fight against piracy of sports content.
As the following examples show, rights holders and broadcasters continue to refine the legal and practical avenues for restricting unauthorised access to content, but new problems are also emerging.

Premier League v Ronaldo7.net

The Premier League has long been at the forefront of pursuing legal action in the anti-piracy battle. We have previously reported on the Premier League’s successful actions, including:

  • the ground-breaking High Court blocking injunction requiring the major UK internet service providers to block access to streaming servers that illegally deliver live streams of Premier League content, Click here
  • and copyright infringement action taken against an unauthorised streaming operator which forced the service to close, Click here.

The Premier League has now had further success in convincing another authorised streaming provider to cease posting links to Premier League matches. Ronaldo7.net has been operating for a number of years, posting links to unauthorised content and attracting significant traffic. However, from the end of February 2019, the site has ceased the practice as regards Premier League content. 

The site has stated to users ‘We’re sorry but we’re not allowed to post links to Premier League games anymore’ – the use of ‘anymore’ belying the fact that Ronaldo7.net has never been authorised to undertake such activities.

The ability of the Premier League to track down the operators of the website and threaten further legal action for copyright infringement (and it may subsequently pursue an action for damages) has achieved the primary aim of stopping ongoing infringement of live matches. Identifying website operators and issuing cease and desist notices are key facets of the Premier League’s anti-piracy strategy, which also includes coordination with law enforcement authorities around the world to cease sales of illegal set-top boxes.

La Liga enforcement action

In Spain, La Liga has also reported notable successes in its enforcement strategy, following a targeted enforcement drive during December 2018. La Liga has employed a large team of enforcement officers to inspect public establishments in Spain to identify those using illegal decoders to show unauthorised content.

La Liga has initiated legal proceedings against over 600 establishments and reported infringing establishments to police, resulting in action from the national police authorities in seizing illegal decoding devices.

The ongoing strategy and commitment of significant resources by the rights holder is likely to protect and potentially enhance the value of the media rights in subsequent deals with broadcasters.

beoutQ

Conversely, the ongoing battle broadcaster beIN faces in Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region emphasises the constant and evolving threat of piracy.

Qatar-based beIN has complained of the ongoing unsanctioned broadcast of its channels within Saudi Arabia under the banner of beoutQ, an unauthorised channel using the beIN feed, which is also available in other Gulf territories. Rights affected include premium content such as Premier League, UEFA Champions League and Formula 1 and rights holders have joined beIN in demanding action on the issue.

beIN is reportedly pursuing legal action to attempt to cease the broadcast of beoutQ, however the broadcasts remain ongoing. The impact cannot be overstated with beIN citing the beoutQ piracy as the reason for beIN not renewing its rights deal with Formula 1 in the MENA region.

Summary

It is not in doubt that piracy of sports rights continues to damage the value of premium content for both rights holders and broadcasters. An active enforcement programme, as well as advancing technological measures, are essentially in protecting the value of rights to be sold and those acquired. Recent developments show notable successes, however, piracy remains pervasive in many markets.


This article was written by Richard Davies. For more information, please contact Richard on +44 (0)20 7427 6732 or at richard.davies@crsblaw.com.

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