The technological race is on between illicit Internet streaming services and rights holders in sporting events that can only be viewed lawfully by subscription. In one case, the High Court made a novel order to protect the Football Association Premier League Limited (FAPL) against the impact of online piracy.
FAPL was concerned by the increasing use of set top boxes, media players and mobile devices to obtain free live streaming of Premiership matches. This threatened to undermine the value of FAPL’s intellectual property rights and to deter public attendance at football matches. It was also likely to reduce the revenue returned to football clubs and the wider sporting community. The skill and effort required to obtain access to such unlawful streaming had fallen dramatically and traditional orders, blocking individual websites, were no longer effective.
In the circumstances, FAPL sought an injunction against the six main retail Internet providers, requiring them to take measures to block, or at least impede, access by their customers to streaming servers that deliver infringing footage of Premiership matches to UK consumers. FAPL’s application was either supported, or not opposed, by all of the Internet providers.
In granting the order sought, the Court found that it was a proportionate means of protecting FAPL’s rights in match footage, logos and other copyright artistic works that appear within that footage. The order would not take effect until the providers had had time to prepare for compliance with it and, in order to test its effectiveness, would only endure for about two months until the end of the football season. The Court also noted that the order would only bite during live matches when the providers would take steps to block suspect IP addresses. Such steps were practicable due to video monitoring technologies that made it possible for FAPL to identify infringing streams with a high level of accuracy.