By Ali Mashraf
The world recently witnessed the most expensive match of combat sports ever, when undefeated five-division professional boxing champion Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr. took on the current reigning UFC Lightweight champion ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor. The pay-per-view price was set at USD 89.95 with an additional USD 10 being charged for HD.
As expected, with the technology available, viewers both in USA and abroad got to bypass this high price by illegally streaming the bout online. The promoters, Showtime pay-per-view successfully brought injunction against the registrant of a group of 44 websites who planned to stream the fight illegally violating its copyright. Nonetheless, an estimated 2.93 million viewers illegally streamed the fight via online streaming websites, apps such as Meerkat and Periscope, as well as on Facebook live, YouTube and Twitch.
Though the context of this write-up is set on this fight, live streaming of professional sports games is not a new issue at all. Moreover, with the advent of Facebook live in 2016, this issue has become more complicated than ever. While copyright laws are in their places, the very nature of anonymity on the internet makes it impossible to catch the perpetrators responsible for illegal live streaming. However, the streaming websites, in their legal terms and disclosures have repeatedly warned people from not posting materials that infringe copyright laws.
For starters, the list of contents that Meerkat forbids its users from posting specifically says- not posting content that violates the rights of a third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, and publicity rights. Periscope also issues a similar warning, stating- We reserve the right to remove content alleged to be infringing without prior notice and at our sole discretion. In appropriate circumstances, Periscope will also terminate a user’s account if the user is determined to be a repeat infringer.
YouTube uses a remarkable feature of Google, the Content ID technology to scan contents for copyrighted materials and issues automatic takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, known popularly as DMCA Notice. But this is only applicable for uploaded videos. Videos streamed live on YouTube are able to bypass this provision.
Similarly, Facebook also does not have an automatic process to take illegally streamed live videos down. Someone watching the illegal live stream has to flag the content manually in order for it to be taken down. However, Facebook has started implementing image and audio matching system to help identify duplicate versions of existing contents.
Thus, it is quite evident that despite advancements in various areas of technology, curbing down illegal live streaming instantly is still a problem. In the landmark case of The Football Association Premier League LTD. v John Doe, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the owner of an Israeli website which offered the viewing of sports events via streaming technology had infringed copyright laws and thus ordered the closing of the said website.
The court, in its verdict also pointed out that despite sports event not falling under classic copyright protection, the various aspects of production of a sporting event viz. filming and editing techniques, commentaries and commercials on TV could be protected by these laws.
A month ago, the Premier League of England was awarded a court order for the 2017/18 season that would enable them to tackle illegal streaming of matches. As Sky and BT Sport hold the live rights for Premier League football, the blocking order will allow UK ISP providers to block people from illegally live streaming the matches online. A similar order obtained for the last two months of the 2016/17 season resulted in 5,000 server IP addresses being blocked for illegal streaming of premier league matches.
To the contrary, the live streaming of season premiere of season five of the popular TV show, Game of Thrones set the piracy world record but in turn, massively boosted the popularity of the show without affecting subsequent DVD sales. Hence, arguments for both sides exist in this regard. Even experts have predicted that despite 2.93 million viewers illegally live streaming the Mayweather v McGregor bout, it is likely to hurt either fighter’s purses.
In Bangladesh, copyright laws have not been strongly enforced yet and thus people always exploit the loopholes in the legal provisions and live stream copyrighted content, including sports events as well as recently released movies (illegal live streams of the popular movie Aynabaji were taken down on Facebook live last year, though some people still managed to stream the movie illegally).
In the 21st century, an age of scientific advancements in the field of technology and when smartphones have become a common household commodity, live stream is here to stay. Therefore, protecting intellectual property is surely going to be tougher gradually. As such, laws need to be made keeping the nature of technological advancements, the economic implications and the implementation mechanisms in mind.