by Don Groves
People who wanted to make a fast buck by the illegal live streaming of live sports including the English Premier League (EPL) and FIFA World Cup have been dealt significant blows.
In the UK the High Court has extended the regime which enables the EPL to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block unauthorized streams in real-time to the 2018-19 season.
The court orders enabled the Premier League to disrupt or block nearly 200,000 illegal streams of its content in the 2017/18 season.
In addition the League and anti-piracy organisation FACT are pursuing suppliers of illicit streaming devices (ISDs) with considerable success; last this month a supplier was jailed for five years.
Meanwhile FIFA is clamping down on piracy, including taking legal action against a Saudi TV station which illegally broadcast the World Cup's opening games.
Here, SBS telecast the World Cup games live by arrangement with Optus. A spokesman for SBS said: "Piracy is an industry-wide issue and sporting organisations like FIFA have stepped up their anti-piracy measures. SBS works closely with them to ensure our rights are protected."
Foxtel and Fox Sports are working closely with Australian sports federations on measures to improve content protection for live sports. Currently the Federal Court order gives ISPs 15 days to block infringing sites so a much faster process to protect the exclusive rights holders of live sport will be sought.
Meanwhile Village Roadshow, Foxtel and other content companies are taking the fight to the pirates by seeking further orders from the Federal Court to block piracy sites.
Rights-holders have asked a Federal Government's copyright review to make the site-blocking laws even more effective in three ways:
- Broaden the applications to include search engines, social media and other types of internet intermediaries, which are often used by pirates to find new locations and proxies to circumvent the ISP blocks.
- Extend the powers to disable illegal online locations in Australia, not just those overseas. This would apply to subscription sites and Kodi box add-ons that advertise on platforms such as Google and Facebook.
- Change the definition of websites whose primary purpose is providing infringing content to substantial purpose. This would catch sites that offer a mix of legitimate and illegitimate content.
A recurring problem is that days after a Pirate Bay website is blocked, the same content is available on proxy sites. Adrian Cannon, Fox Sports senior legal counsel responsible for content protection, says: "The current regime requires the rights holder to go back to the Court to obtain an additional order to block those proxy sites.
"The most recent site blocking case in Singapore has granted dynamic site blocking which enables the applicant to send infringing online locations directly to the ISP for immediate blocking rather than making a separate application to the Court."
In the first 18 months since the first site blocking orders were granted in Australia in December 2016, the Federal Court ordered 65 piracy sites and more than 380 domains to the blocked. The result was a 53.4% drop in usage in Australia of blocked sites.
"We continue to see site blocking as a very important weapon against piracy. Research shows that it is effective, and the more sites we block the more effective it becomes. There is also no evidence that site blocking has caused any detriment for ISPs implementing the blocks, or Internet users," says Simon Phillipson, director of corporate affairs and general counsel at Village Roadshow Limited.
Recently Roadshow and the Australian Screen Association broke new ground in the anti-piracy crusade by obtaining the first injunction to prevent access to domains related to HDSubs+, a Kodi box add-on streaming app which can be loaded into Kodi and Android set top boxes enabling users to access hundreds of overseas TV channels and VOD content.
The action also targeted online locations which provide authentication for HDSubs+, updates for the app, information on the location of ISDs, an electronic program guide, and/or a means of paying for an HDSubs+ subscription.
In July Roadshow, the Hollywood studios and Madman Entertainment filed another series of claims targeting dozens of websites screening Hollywood films such as Spider-Man Homecoming, Jurassic World and Dunkirk and TV series including The Big Bang Theory and Shameless.
Content owners are endeavouring to reduce the amount of piracy that is available on Facebook and Google/ YouTube by sending reference streams to both platforms. When a user uploads content that matches the reference steam, the user's stream is blocked automatically.
Often Facebook users use their mobile phone or webcam to upload a stream of a live event, as happened with the 2017 pay-per-view telecast on Foxtel of the Anthony Mundine-Danny Green boxing match at Adelaide Oval.
A young mechanic from Brisbane live-streamed the undercard on Facebook and had clocked about 80,000 viewers until Foxtel's content protection investigator asked him to desist and disabled his set top box. However three or four copycat streams sprang up immediately, each of which had more than 100,000 views.
While Facebook and YouTube both have copyright protection mechanisms, they can both be circumvented. It is a cumbersome and expensive process for rights holders which have to ingest reference streams and monitor and notify each platform every time an infringing stream slips through their net.
The only way for rights holders to take down these streams is to submit a web-form copyright or trademark notice to the platforms' IP teams in other time zones, which often means delayed responses. A boxing match can be over in five minutes and viewers can grow to more than 100,000 in that time.
Cannon says: "We have asked the platforms to terminate users' accounts because the same people pop up again and again. They will take down the video but let the user stay on the platform even though it is clear they are a repeat infringer. YouTube's terms of service say they will terminate accounts (at their discretion) when we send more than two web-form notices. We have often sent as many as 10 web-forms and the repeat infringer's account has not been terminated.
"When we do manage to terminate the user's account there is nothing stopping a user from getting a new gmail/ YouTube account and doing a bulk upload of all the content they had uploaded previously, which includes whole match replays and our magazine programs.
"There are hundreds of YouTube channels and Facebook profiles which make our programs available without our consent. You can have YouTube users who have uploaded thousands of unauthorised videos. What the platforms are asking us to do is to take them down one by one, which is impossible given the volume of content."
Much of this unauthorised content on YouTube has pre-roll ads from legitimate advertisers, with the revenues shared between the platform and the infringing uploader. While this enriches the platforms, no revenue flows back to the rights owners. The onus is then on the rights holder to find each video and either monetise it or take it down.
Cannon adds: "The rights owner has no right to claim any money made by the infringing uploader or the platform from the time it was uploaded until the time we find it and reclaim it.
"It's a great deal for the platforms as they can monetise huge volumes of unauthorised content without paying for it, sit around and watch us expend time and money finding it, then make us jump though several hoops to take it down. On our platform we have to pay the government for a licence, pay millions to acquire the sporting rights and millions more to produce the content. Clearly this is not a level playing field."