A decade ago the vast majority of ‘pirate’ content was consumed after the fact but there has been a significant shift towards live TV programming in recent years, largely through IPTV and similar unlicensed services.
This phenomenon has proven a real thorn in the side of sports broadcasters who are desperate to preserve their live programming revenues. The Premier League, for example, has been hit by easy availability of unlicensed live streams, offered either for free or at a fraction of the official rates.
To counter this problem, in March 2017 the League obtained a blocking injunction from the High Court which compelled ISPs including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to block unauthorized streams under Section 97a of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
A second order was handed down by the High Court in July 2017, which ran from August 12, 2017 to May 13, 2018. An extension was granted by the Court in July 2018.
This didn’t go unnoticed by other organizations in the same position. As reported here in September, sports promoter Matchroom Sport also obtained a similar High Court injunction enabling it to block illegal streams of fights for the next two years.
It now transpires that Queensbury Promotions, the home of Tyson Fury and legendary promoter Frank Warren, have followed Matchroom Sport by obtaining a similar order.
Granted on November 28, 2018, by Mr Justice Arnold with zero fanfare, the order requires BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, and Virgin Media to block live streams of forthcoming Queensbury promotions events in a similar manner to that outlined in the Matchroom Sport and Premier League cases.
While ISPs initially opposed blocking orders when they were first touted years ago, it’s notable that the first defendant in this case, BT, actually supported the blocking application. The other ISPs simply didn’t oppose, which made the order a relatively simple one to grant, albeit with a technical matter or two to address.
According to Justice Arnold, Showtime Networks entered into agreements with Queensberry and other third parties which saw Showtime as the broadcaster and copyright owner of the feed. Under the arrangement, however, he did not consider Queensbury to have an exclusive license. Ultimately this was overcome when Queensbury took an assignment of the right to bring proceedings from Showtime.
The order came into force ready for the Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury fight which took place on December 1, 2018 and ended in a controversial split draw. Interestingly, however, widespread reports of blocking didn’t make an appearance, on the contrary in fact.
According to piracy-tracking firm MUSO, unauthorized streams of the fight were viewed ten million times – 1.1 million in the UK alone – with YouTube coming out on top as the leading provider. It is not clear whether those doing the blocking made any effort to target the Google-owned company but it seems likely that if they had, severe collateral damage would have ensued.
Moving forward, it appears that the ability of Queensbury to tackle piracy of events in this manner will continue until December 1, 2020, meaning that illegal Wilder v Fury rematch streams might….might….find themselves affected.
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