The Football Association Premier League (FAPL) has won a landmark ruling in its ongoing battle to tackle illegal streaming of Premier League fixtures. The Court’s order obliges the six largest retail internet service providers (ISPs), BT, Sky, Virgin, PlusNet, EE and Talk Talk to block access to servers which allow delivery of infringing Premier League content to UK consumers. To date, blocking orders have only been obtained against websites that allow users to watch infringing content, the most prominent in the sports arena being FirstRow Sports in 2013. In practice, the success of such orders can be limited, as sites that stream content have tended to shut down and then reappear under a different guise.
Further, consumers have increasingly switched to accessing illegally streamed content via set top devices like Amazon Fire sticks or Kodi boxes as well as mobile device apps, which would not be caught by a traditional website blocking order. The problem for rights holders like FAPL has also been exacerbated by a number of factors, including:
- the skill required to find infringing content has fallen significantly;
- high resolution quality streams are increasingly available; and
- servers hosting illegal streams tend to move to offshore providers, which do not comply with requests from rights holders, or are sluggish in their responses to take down content.
The Court’s order (which was supported by those ISPs with an interest in FAPL’s rights) seeks to root out the problem before streams can spread to websites, add-ons and apps, thereby breaking the chain leading to infringement – as one streaming server could feed multiple client browsers.
The blocking order has other unique features:
- it is “live” which means it will only take effect when a broadcaster is transmitting the footage;
- the servers in question are reset each week the Premier League is running, allowing FAPL to identify new hosting servers, the addresses of which are passed on to the ISPs for blocking;
- the order is not permanent, in that it came into force on 18 March 2017 and will run to 22 May 2017, allowing FAPL to evaluate the order’s success in time for next season; and
- each host provider will receive a notice when one of its servers is the subject of the blocking order.
Just as the FirstRow Sports ruling built on precedents originating from the blocking of peer-to-peer file share sites, so too this new type of order will help construct the framework of blocking orders, pending fresh technological developments requiring a yet further revised approach.