In July 2013, the Premier League successfully obtained an injunction from the High Court requiring certain internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to a website (FirstRow Sports) which had acted as a portal to third party streams of sporting events. Recently, the Premier League went back to the High Court and obtained the first blocking order against streaming servers.

Background

The Premier League owns the copyright in the footage of its matches and in the artistic works in the footage (e.g. the Premier League logo). Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the High Court has the power to grant an injunction against an internet service provider (ISP) where the ISP has actual knowledge of another person using their service to infringe copyright. The continued and substantial increases in the costs of obtaining the rights to broadcast live Premier League games (the UK TV rights for 2016-19 were sold to Sky and BT for around £5.14 billion; an increase of 71% on the cost for 2013-16) also increases the pressure on the Premier League to satisfy its licensees that it is preventing other third parties from broadcasting Premier League games without permission. Since the July 2013 case, the situation has changed somewhat in that rather than mainly using websites on computers to access illegal broadcasts, some people are increasingly using set-top boxes, media players, apps, downloadable software and can connect directly to streaming servers from their mobile devices.

The Order

The Premier League successfully obtained an injunction order requiring BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin (BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky and Virgin supported the application and TalkTalk did not oppose it) to block or hinder access to streaming servers providing illegal broadcasts in the UK. The Order requires the Premier League to notify each ISP once a week that one of the ISP’s IP addresses is being blocked and allows certain parties that would be adversely affected by the Order (e.g. the ISP, the website operator, the streaming server) to apply for the Order to be varied or set aside. Due to technological advances, the Order can and will apply only during live broadcasts of matches, and the Order only applies from 18 March 2017 until 22 May 2017 (the end of the season) to act as a tester to see whether the Premier League should apply for a similar order for next season.

Comment

Copyright infringement includes copying a copyright work (e.g. a person illegally streaming a Premier League match creates copies in the computer’s memory) and communicating the work to the public (e.g. the operator of the streaming servers) without the copyright owner’s permission.

Sport is most valuable when watched live, including because its entertainment value diminishes if the result is known. Therefore, a potential solution of providing a legal and alternative subscription based streaming service allowing the subscriber to watch music (e.g. Spotify) or TV shows (e.g. Netflix) legally and when he/she chooses is not as straightforward. As well as using the Courts, many other methods are being adopted to try to prevent the infringement of the Premier League’s copyright, including fingerprinting technology, takedown notices, delayed highlights packages (e.g. Sky provides highlights through its app) and improving mobile and online legal streaming services (e.g. BT and Sky provide facilities for watching matches live online).

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