Infringers walk the plank as the Premier League’s anti-piracy campaign scores big success

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.

Dealing with on-field misconduct in Rugby League

In a recent on-field misconduct incident, Joel Tomkins, the current captain of rugby league’s Hull Kingston Rovers (ʺHull KRʺ) received a two-match ban and £500 fine from the Rugby Football League (“RFL”) for using offensive language towards a match official.

At a hearing in Leeds, the disciplinary panel found that Tomkins swore twice at referee Liam Moore.  During his tirade, Tomkins also called the official a ‘cheat’.  The incident happened in the 64th minute of Hull KR’s Super League match against Salford Red Devils, when Tomkins protested against Moore’s decision to disallow a try.  Hull KR went on to lose the game 24-22.

The Tomkins incident is an example of the kind of player misconduct which many sports, to varying degrees of success, are actively trying to stamp out.  A foul-mouthed reaction to a controversial referee’s call is of course not out of the ordinary.  However, ever-increasing professionalism, the added coverage and scrutiny of on-field incidents via broadcasting, replays, and social media, makes it more difficult for players to escape criticism and disciplinary action.

This goes hand-in-hand with heightened expectations of a player’s character and integrity.  There is a growing appreciation in sports such as rugby league of the status of players as role models and representatives (with good behaviour expected both on and off the pitch).

These issues go to the core sporting values of integrity, fair play, honesty and respect.   The disrespect of a referee and, arguably worse, the questioning of an official’s integrity, are clearly at odds with these values.

This particular blog takes the example of on-field misconduct in rugby league to focus in on how sports address and punish disciplinary incidents.

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Got, got, need! Football trading cards meet blockchain

Football and blockchain: It may not be the most obvious of pairings, but stakeholders in the football world are beginning to dip their toes in the water, when it comes to using blockchain technology in their commercial operations.

Readers of Sports Shorts may have fond memories of schooldays spent collecting trading cards or stickers depicting their favourite footballers. The perceived value of these trading cards fluctuated depending on the player, the scarcity of the card and, in some cases, whether it was a “shiny” or “foil” card. The inherently tradeable nature of the cards made playground entrepreneurs out of those skilled enough to judge the value of cards to their classmates as well as providing hours of fun. For many people, that love of collecting trading cards or stickers continued well into adulthood.

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A Time to Celebrate Women in Sport

Last Friday was International Women’s Day – a day where women are celebrated in countries around the world. In March alone, UK sportswomen have more than earned recognition for their achievements. Laura Muir retained her European 1,500m and 3,000m titles, beating the 31-year-old British indoor mile record by 5 seconds at the European Indoor Championships, the England Women’s Football Team won the SheBelievesCup, and, after crushing victories, England Women’s Rugby are on track for a Six Nations win.

I hope I am not getting too carried away when I say that there is currently a real momentum behind women’s sport, and importantly, women’s achievements are being recognised in the media. I am increasingly seeing the triumphs of sportswomen decorating the headlines. The live coverage of female sport is also increasing. For example, the BBC will show every England game in the run up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer. I am slowly seeing more female presenters appear in mainstream sports programmes, such as Alex Scott, who made history as the first female pundit on Sky Sports’ Super Sunday. Continue Reading

A ‘Nations Championship’ for Rugby Union – One for the TMO to Review?

World Rugby intends to tinker with the international fixture list by creating a Nations Championship competition, as confirmed in their recent statement. The launch is rumoured to be planned for early next year, however this latest proposal might be kicked into touch quicker than an Englishman can bring up Jonny Wilkinson’s left boot to an Aussie counterpart.

According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, the blueprint envisages that a 12-team annual league will spearhead the revival of test matches worldwide. The league would be comprised of the Northern Hemisphere Six Nations teams and the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship teams, with the addition of emerging rugby nations Japan and the USA. The format would see the teams playing each other once during the year, with the semi-finals and a final to be contested in the Northern Hemisphere in November or December. Continue Reading

VAR Reaching Consequences? The £9.2 Million Refereeing Decision and Changes to the Laws of the Beautiful Game

Refereeing decisions are frequently the subject of debate in the world of football; these decisions generate such interest because they can often be interpreted in different ways. This is one factor, which contributes to the game’s unpredictability.

A prime example of this occurred last night. During Manchester United’s last 16 Champions League match against PSG, the referee, Damir Skovina, awarded a last minute penalty to United for a handball by PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe, following a referral from the video assistant referee (“VAR”). All four of the former players in the BT Sport studio (host Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves) thought the penalty was incorrectly awarded; however, Peter Walton, a former Premier League referee retained by BT Sport to give his expert opinion on refereeing incidents, was in agreement with Skovina and thought the award of the penalty was correct.

Marcus Rashford stepped up to score the resulting penalty, meaning United won the tie and in doing so became the first team in Champions League history to overcome a 2-0 or greater home first-leg deficit in the knock out stages of the competition. United will now progress to the quarter-final, for which they will receive an additional £9.2 million in prize money.

Following the AGM of the International Football Association Board (“IFAB”), which was held in Aberdeen on 2 March 2019, a change to the handball law, together with a number of other law changes, will take effect in June 2019.

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Not illegal, not specified, not described, not restrained – Leeds United, utmost good faith and the EFL Regulations

On 18 February, the English Football League (“EFL”) handed Leeds United a sizeable fine of £200,000 as well as issuing a formal reprimand and warning for sending staff to ‘spy’ on opposition training before matches. This was an initiative instigated by the Head Coach, Marcelo Bielsa. The decision followed Bielsa’s comprehensive PowerPoint presentation in January that demonstrated the full extent of his game preparation, which included watching videos of every single opposition game and populating a document with tactical notes.

Contrary to obligation to act in utmost good faith

One interesting element is that Bielsa’s practice was (and is) not contrary to a specific prohibition under the EFL Regulations. In this way the manager was right to say that what he had done was “not illegal…not specified…not described…not restrained.” The sanctions were imposed and accepted pursuant to EFL Regulation 3.4 in Section 2 – Membership:

“In all matters and transactions relating to The League each Club shall behave towards each other Club and The League with the utmost good faith. Further, each Club shall deliver to the League a copy of the Club Charter signed by the appropriate Relevant Person for and on behalf of the Club. The League shall be entitled to publish the Club Charter.”

This is similar to the wording of the Premier League Chairmen’s Charter which has been in force in the Premier League for roughly a decade and is aimed at ensuring integrity in Clubs conduct with each other. The Chairmen’s Charter is incorporated into the Premier League Handbook and provides that:

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Public Funding of Spanish professional football clubs: a game worth playing?

The saga involving Spain’s public funding of certain Spanish football clubs took a new turn on 26 February 2019, as the General Court of the European Union overturned the European Commission’s (“EC”) ruling that FC Barcelona had received unlawful state aid from Spain.

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NBA Enforces Respect for Match Officials

Basketball RefereeGolden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was fined $25,000 before the All-Star break for “verbally abusing and confronting a game official”.

Last year’s NBA champions found themselves trailing the Portland Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter of a heated matchup. Draymond Green was called for what would usually be considered a common foul, but the officials upgraded his violation to a ‘flagrant foul 1’ upon review. A flagrant foul 1 involves excessive or severe contact during a live ball, such as swinging an elbow.

Steve Kerr slammed his clipboard onto the courtside scorers’ table in response, earning his first technical foul of the game. The officials then gave Kerr his second technical foul shortly after as he colourfully approached the officials. He eventually had to be restrained by two time All-Star MVP and two time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant and was ejected from the game.

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