Between 2016 and 2019 the Premier League was paid a record breaking £5 billion for UK rights by broadcasters for 168 games a season. A new deal, effective from 2019 to 2022, will see the Premier League make at least £4.46 billion from the UK rights to broadcast matches (with one broadcaster not disclosing how much they paid for two packages). Unsurprisingly, the Premier League are eager to protect that revenue by tackling piracy and illegal streaming.
It was this firm, which advised on the first known successful judgment against the illegal streaming of football coverage in the European Union, obtaining summary judgment and an injunction for UEFA in 2006. Since then, Sports Shorts has covered the emergence of ground-breaking “live blocking injunctions”, which the Premier League obtained both in respect of the final portion of the 2016/17 season (in a test case before the High Court in March 2017) and subsequently in respect of the entire 2017/18 season. This year, in order to further strengthen its anti-piracy programme, the Premier League has announced that it will open its first international office in Singapore with the aim of pursuing illegal streaming worldwide. Most recently, the enforcement programme has secured a court order against illegal suppliers of Premier League content and five arrests have been made internationally in connection with one of the world’s largest anti-piracy investigations.
Illegal streaming organisation found to defraud the Premier League
On 20 March, following a four-week trial at Warwick Crown Court, three individuals were sentenced to a combined total of 17 years in prison for operating a pirate streaming organisation. These are some of the longest sentences ever issued for piracy-related crimes.
The three individuals traded as Dreambox, Dreambox TV Limited, and Digital Switchover Limited, via the websites “dreamboxtv.co.uk” and “yourfootie.com”. They were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the Premier League by providing illegal access to Premier League pay-TV to over 1,000 businesses and homes in England and Wales. These fraudulent activities earned the perpetrators in excess of £5 million over ten years.
The Premier League’s Director of Legal Services said: “Today’s decision has provided further evidence that the law will catch up with companies and individuals that defraud rights owners and breach copyright. The custodial sentences issued here reflect the seriousness and the scale of the crimes.”
“Using these services is unlawful and fans should be aware that when they do so they enter into agreements with illegal businesses. They also risk being victims of fraud or identity theft by handing over personal data and financial details.”
Premier League aids arrests made in international IPTV piracy ring
Last week, the Premier League assisted the Spanish National Police as part of an operation to shut down an illegal subscription streaming service in one of the world’s largest anti-piracy investigations. The operation saw collaboration between authorities in the UK, Spain and Denmark, as well as Europol and the digital platform security provider Irdeto.
The investigation began in 2015 and uncovered a complex technological infrastructure underpinning the illegal Internet Protocol TV (“IPTV”) business, which comprised of 11 server farms distributed all over the world, some of them with more than 44 servers. The illegal IPTV streaming business provided access to over 800 television channels to subscribers in more than 30 countries. The business earned approximately €8 million (£6.9 million). Overall, 14 locations were raided worldwide, five arrests were made and, to date, three individuals in Spain have been found guilty and sentenced.
Whilst the Premier League has long been known for its forceful pursuit of infringers, their investment into progressive technology and their recent collaboration with international enforcement agencies has proven very effective. No doubt, the Premier League, its members and other sports governing bodies will be pleased with the results of their most recent campaign against those who pirate Premier League content, given the unprecedented sentences meted out to infringers in various jurisdictions. With the UK government considering proposals for administrative site blocking, which could allow enforcement agencies or administrative staff the power to block infringing sites without judicial oversight, the Premier League and other rights-holders may have further tools at their disposal to tackle piracy in the near future.