A mysterious, but enormously popular, website that generates millions in profits by streaming unlicensed coverage of football matches and other sporting events into private homes and pubs has been effectively shut down after the High Court found that its activities violated the copyright of professional sporting bodies on a grand scale.
FirstRow Sports is ranked amongst the top 250 most popular websites in the UK and is estimated to generate profits of up to £9.5 million annually. Currently hosted in Sweden, it has been registered under many different domain names and the identities of those who operate it have proved unascertainable.
In issuing an injunction, requiring the UK’s six largest internet service providers to block the website, the High Court found that FirstRow’s activities involved wholesale infringement of the copyright owned by Football Association Premier League Limited (FAPL) in recordings of television footage of Premier League matches and associated artwork. FAPL’s case was supported by seven other sporting bodies, representing professional football, golf, darts, snooker and rugby interests.
The Court noted that a large proportion of FAPL’s revenue derives from the world-wide sale of rights to broadcast Premier League football matches. Such rights were valued at more than £3 billion when last auctioned. Broadcasting of matches into various territories is prohibited during closed periods to encourage attendance at football matches and so support the sport of football.
The internet service providers, who together have a fixed line market share of some 94% of the UK market, did not oppose the making of the order which the Court found was necessary to protect the rights of FAPL and others. Noting that FirstRow was ‘profiting from infringement on a large scale’; the Court found that the order was also proportionate given the desirability of maintaining the closed period.