“Share and share alike”: UK IPO publishes report on the challenges of social media and online IP infringement

Social MediaOn 4 September 2017, the UK Intellectual Property Office published an independent report examining the role social media plays in the sale and movement of counterfeit goods (full report available here).

The objectives of the report

The objectives of the research were to:

  • assess the role that social media plays in the sale and distribution of counterfeited and pirated physical goods from six representative sectors: alcohol, cigarettes, clothing, footwear,   perfume and watches;
  • estimate recent levels of counterfeiting within the UK;
  • understand the extent to which this is moving online;
  • gauge how it is helped to do so by online social media platforms; and
  • assess the scale, impact and characteristics of infringements, as well as opportunities for IP infringement.

The report’s conclusions and recommendations

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report concludes that social media provides a forum for facilitating online intellectual property infringement:

“Our consumer data reinforces claims made by government enforcement agencies that platforms, such as Facebook, encourage IP infringement and this is particularly flagrant within closed groups. Counterfeiters see social media as a haven and actively use both open and closed group pages, along with ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’, to disseminate their offerings. The social media platforms make it easy to move channels by establishing fan pages and making it possible to carry out transactions on or off the social media platform. Social media amplifies counterfeiters’ messages by increasing the connectivity of potential complicit consumers. Crucially, these connections do not have to be strong; as the threshold for connection on social media is low.”

Relevance to the Sport industry

Whilst the report does not focus specifically on sport as a sector, it is of importance to the industry in two respects:

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FA Introduces Greater Protection for Referees at Grassroots Level

In the 77th minute of England’s victory over Slovakia in last night’s World Cup qualifier, Tottenham’s midfield maestro Dele Alli, was unceremoniously body checked by former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel.

Despite going to ground in a promising attacking position, the referee, Clement Turpin, waved play on. Television camera subsequently showed an unhappy Alli making a gesture with his middle finger. Despite some believing the gesture was aimed at the referee, Alli has this morning clarified on Twitter that the gesture was in fact made at his “good friend Kyle Walker” and apologised for any offence caused. In the meantime, FIFA has stated that it is awaiting reports from the match officials before deciding if any disciplinary action is required.

Whether or not the gesture was aimed at the referee the fact the spotlight has been placed on the incident highlights the game’s wish to offer greater protection from abuse, of all kinds, to officials throughout all levels of the game.

To this end, in July of this year the FA introduced a series of regulations designed to deal with the abuse suffered by officials at the grassroots level of the game, a problem that led some 2,000 officials to go on strike earlier this year.

The new regulations, which will affect those playing at the grassroots level (‘step five’ and below), are in force from this season and include the following sanctions:

  • an automatic 5 year ban from all football for assaulting a match official;
  • an 84 day ban and £100 fine for any physical contact with a match official; and
  • a 56 day, or 6 match ban, and £50 fine for verbal threats to a match official.

The above are the minimum sanctions to be imposed and may be increased by the Disciplinary Commission dealing with each offence depending on aggravating factors.

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A loss for England but a win for women’s rugby

Female rugby player

Saturday evening saw a familiar clash between two rugby giants, as England faced up to New Zealand.  Less familiar was the fact that this prime time televised match was the women’s world cup final and it was England’s Roses and New Zealand’s Black Ferns who captivated audiences of 2.6 million (a substantially higher viewership than the average premier league match) in a nail-biting display of all that rugby has to offer.  England went into half-time 12 points up thanks to an early break from Lydia Thompson followed by a penalty try, only for the Black Ferns to return all guns blazing in the second half, with relentlessly physical attacking which ultimately wore down England’s defences and left the final score at 41-32.

Despite the palpable disappointment amongst the whites, post-match interviews from England full-back Emily Scarratt and fly-half Katy Mclean revealed an overriding sense of positivity at the upward trajectory of women’s rugby generally and the benefits of prime time exposure. As Mclean commented, “We’re immensely disappointed, but the positives from today are if any girl goes out and tries this sport.”

But how does this success (both for England and the women’s sport generally) sit with the RFU’s decision not to renew the England women’s 15s professional contracts?

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The Neymar Transfer Saga Continues

Earlier this month, Sports Shorts considered the Neymar transfer saga with an in-depth look at the law surrounding buy-out clauses and a more specific post on penalty clauses in contracts entered into by Spanish clubs and minors.

Neymar, backed by Paris Saint-Germain, was recently able to buy himself out of his contract with FC Barcelona in order to join the French club. Since the publication of those blog-posts however, the situation between the Brazilian and his former club has reached fever pitch, as Barcelona announced that they have commenced a claim against Neymar for breach of contract, claiming entitlement to €8.5 million in relation to a renewal bonus, the undisclosed amount paid to him under an alleged ‘loyalty bonus’ and 10% interest.

Barcelona released the following statement regarding the claim:

“FC Barcelona has sent the Spanish Football Federation the labour lawsuit against Neymar Jr they submitted on 11 August at the Labour Tribunal in Barcelona so that they can pass it on to the appropriate authorities in the French Football Federation and FIFA.

In the lawsuit, the Club demands the player return the already paid sum for his contract renewal as he has not completed his contract; 8.5 million euros in damages; and an additional 10% because of delayed payment. The Club also requests Paris Saint-Germain take on responsibility for the payment of these fees if the player cannot do so himself.

FC Barcelona has started these proceedings to protect its interests following Neymar’s decision to buy out his contract just months after he signed an extension until 2021. This legal defence will be carried out following the established procedures with the competent authorities without entering into any verbal arguments with the player.”

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Major League Soccer Challenged in CAS

Earlier this month, two American soccer teams, Miami FC of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and Kingston Stockade FC of the National Premier Soccer League, North Atlantic Conference, brought a claim in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against The United States Soccer Federation (USSF), The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and FIFA for allowing MLS to operate a closed league system thereby preventing other teams from being promoted into it based on sporting merit.

Miami FC CEO Sean Flynn publicly commented that the action is based on the belief that “the benefits of soccer should be shared by the many, not the few, and that soccer’s top division should include the best teams, not the teams that pay certain sums of money.” Continue Reading

Day-night cricket: increased audiences, floodlights and pink balls

For a sport that was first played in the 15th century, cricket continues to evolve at a surprisingly rapid pace.  Yesterday afternoon and evening, England played the first day of their maiden day-night test against the West Indies. This was the first ever day-night test match to be played in the United Kingdom.  With it brought the introduction of the most-talked about addition to UK-based test cricket in some time: the pink ball.

Orthodox five-day test matches traditionally begin in the late morning and last until about 6:30pm, when daylight fades.  The day-night test instead commences at around 2pm and is played until at least 9pm, under floodlights.

The principal aim behind this new format is to allow spectators and television viewers to watch some of the action after work.  Tom Harrison, the Chief Executive Officer of the England and Wales Cricket Board (“ECB”) explained the initiative as follows:

“It’s a great opportunity to attract more fans to the game and see how staging Test cricket in the afternoon and evening fits with working patterns and modern lifestyles, whilst maintaining the deep tradition of Test cricket. 

We think it can help attract different fans and families to Test cricket and the innovation will certainly put the five-day game under the spotlight in a very busy summer for the game.

A number of Test nations are looking at day-night Tests as a way of building further interest in our most traditional format.  We’re glad to be supporting that and addition to the understanding of how this might develop in different countries.” Continue Reading

Rule 40: the debate resurfaces in Singapore

The Rule 40 debate (covered by Sports Shorts last year) has resurfaced in recent weeks, this time in the context of the upcoming South East Asia Games (“SEA Games”), which will be taking place in Kuala Lumpur later this month.  This time, the subject is Singaporean marathon runner Soh Rui Yong who has been issued with a formal warning by the Singapore National Olympic Council (“SNOC”) following a series of heated Facebook posts.  Soh Rui Yong has since issued an apology to SNOC and has removed the offending posts.

Protecting official sponsors: what is “Rule 40”?

In order to protect the investment of official Olympic sponsors who have shelled out hundreds of millions for the privilege (90% of which is reinvested into the Games according to the IOC), the IOC uses two key tools.

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Pay dispute – Australian cricket back on track?

Last month, Sports Shorts wrote about the pay dispute between the Australian cricket governing body, Cricket Australia (CA), and the players.  At that time, deadlock prevailed and the Australian players were refusing to play as they were effectively unemployed when the old Memorandum of Understanding (which governed matters such as pay) expired.

At the beginning of this month though, it appears that good news has replaced some of the negative headlines – at least, good news to those who did not hope for the Ashes to simply be handed to England by default!  Agreement has been reached between CA and the players’ body (ACA).  While it is not entirely signed, sealed and delivered, it seems that a compromise on pay has been reached, such that Australian cricket can forget about pickets and return to wickets.

In short, a revenue-sharing model has been retained, albeit a slightly different one to before.  I will avoid going into the finer detail on the differences to the old model, because many argue there aren’t any and I do not have my magnifying glass with me.

Instead, I want to focus on the fallout and the wider issues for cricket.  Neither side have come away from this saga particularly happy.  The ACA have said never again and CA have said that neither side got everything they wanted.  David Warner regretted how it had played out in the media, although he had been the one to drop the possible Ashes strike bomb into an interview.

It is not often good practice to determine which side ‘won’ in such a situation.  Strained relationships, damaged reputations and financial losses normally limit a ‘win’.  However, there are many, including Australian legend Allan Border, that believe the players have struck a win.  It was the revenue model which CA wanted to get rid of and that has not happened.  CA had also wanted an increase in funding for grass roots cricket which it looks like it has done, but the status quo looks largely unchanged considering months of bitter dispute.

So it looks like a win for player power.  If that is the case, it could be argued that much of that power stems from T20 cricket and the revolution that it has generated in the game.  As a format (for professional cricket), it has only been around for about 15 years.  However, in that time, the game has developed hugely, with both batters and bowlers devising new methods to suit the shorter, faster game type.  It is almost unrecognisable to players of a different era.  You wouldn’t have caught Geoffrey Boycott playing a ramp shot over his own head!

It is not just the players’ methods which have developed, but the commercial landscape too.  The speed and ferocity of the cricket action in a T20 match has lent itself to slightly more proactive marketing campaigns than the more attritional test matches.  This attracts more sponsors, which in turn leads to more cash in the game.

A prime example is the IPL, recently celebrating its 10th season.  The glitz and glamour is something to behold and the money, in cricketing terms at least, has been growing at a rate of knots towards eye-watering levels.  In the most recent season, England’s talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes was bought for an incredible £1.7 million.  OK, not exactly Neymar levels, but that is not a transfer fee.  Subject to relevant deductions, that is effectively money paid to him for his services for that IPL season (a period of about 6 weeks).

Stokes is not the only player who can attract large fees.  Six-hitting machines like Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and AB de Villiers are stardust to T20 clubs and franchises, helping to win matches but also attract sponsors and gain social media exposure.  As the number of T20 competitions around the world increases (Sports Shorts wrote a few months ago about the plan for two T20 competitions in England in a season), there is a greater need for players to fill those competitions and so those players need to be attracted.  Therefore, sums in the T20 game may not slow down for some time yet.

And this is where the player power lies.  Years ago, a top cricket player needed to play at international level in order to earn the best salary as a cricketer.  There were no other options and so it would have been very difficult to hold a governing body over a barrel.  However, the top players now could (and some do) earn equivalent money playing in domestic T20 competitions around the world.  Suddenly, governing bodies face their best players refusing to play international cricket for various reasons, as they know they can earn their corn elsewhere.

For wider sport, this is not a new phenomenon and cricket has had revolutions in the past (see Kerry Packer).  The question here is whether this is a bubble preparing to burst or whether we are witnessing a permanent change in the game.

It’s Just Not Cricket: Amateurs and Immigration

For the last seven years, the UK government has made it a key priority to reduce the UK’s net migration figure.  Measures to that end have included making the ability to employ a non-EEA national exceptionally expensive (currently, for a five year visa, the figure stands at in excess of £7,000 purely for visa fees and “surcharges”) and restricting the ability to rent a property or open a bank account without whipping out your visa.  However, a recent article in the Guardian newspaper has highlighted a furore in the most unlikely of bodies, the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The point of contention is recently updated government guidance on how Immigration Officers should define “amateur sportspeople” and “professional sportspeople”, in particular sports visitors.

By way of context, the vast majority of visitors coming to the UK are limited to staying for up to six months and their activities here limited to those in the UK Immigration Rules. To help decipher these Rules, the government issues accompanying “guidance” to Immigration Officers.  The guidance can only expand on the Rules and cannot impose more restrictive terms than the Rules themselves. Continue Reading

Esports – one step closer to Olympic medal status?

People who are gamersIn April, following the announcement by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) that eSports was to become an official medial sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China, Sports Shorts asked “does eSports have a place in the Olympic movement?”  Today, the answer seems to be inching further towards ‘yes’, as Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee confirmed that he will be discussing the possible inclusion of eSports within the 2024 Games.

Following the OCA’s announcement, IOC president Thomas Bach appeared to express a degree of scepticism both as to whether eSports “is really a sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered a sport” and, in any event, whether it truly belongs within the Olympic movement.  His particular concerns included the absence of an international federation “or a structure that will give us confidence or guarantee that… the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place”.  Concerns were also raised regarding the significant focus on violence and physical destruction of one’s opponents within many esports and the extent to which these features are incompatible with the values of the Olympic movement.  According to insidethegames, Bach has referred specifically to a visit to Silicon Valley in early 2016 where a representative of one game boasted of being “very proud that since the invention of the game, something like 400,000 cars have been destroyed”. Understandably Bach and others have expressed concern that this type of mentality does not make for happy marriage with Olympic values.

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