Israeli Court Ruling Spells Trouble For Premier League


The Guardian reported last night that the Premier League have been dealt a massive legal blow in its fight against online piracy when an Israeli court threw out an attempt to shut down a pirate website that was showing live matches free of charge.

Some of the observations made by the Israeli court include:

  • it was a case of “fair use” since no profit was made from the broadcasts and that, in Israeli law, breach of “broadcasting” copyright only referred to cable or wireless transmission and not streaming over the internet.
  • the judge commented that “watching sports events is socially important and should remain in the realm of mass entertainment, and not just be for those who can afford it” – and argued that those who view online were not damaging the revenues of broadcasters. She said they were mainly “those of small means or who are not sufficiently interested in sport to pay”.

The lawyer for the Premier League said that he would appeal, but if the ruling stands, this sets a dangerous legal precedent for the Premier League whereby it may have to totally rethink its digital strategy moving forward.

The Premier League will undoubtedly be extremely nervous about the decision because the easier it is for football supporters to view games online, fewer of them will watch games on television. The riches that the Premier League club enjoy are overwhelmingly a result of billions of dollars from TV rights. If fewer eyeballs are watching games on television, then the value of the TV rights fees should decline accordingly.

The reality is however that more and more football supporters are watching games online instead of on television, and the Premier League is technologically in the dark ages in terms of providing matches online. However, the Premier League would want to hold on to making most of the money for its clubs via the TV revenue stream for as long as possible.

At the same time, I’m sure the Premier League wouldn’t want its product being given away for free online. In talks with insiders who have had discussions with the Premier League, I have learned that the league has been considering an online model very similar to the current one by whereby games are available legally online on a pay-per-match model. Whether or not the Premier League are still pursuing this option is not known, but at least they’ve been seriously considering their options. Prior to this post, we had known very little if anything about the Premier League’s plans other than employing NetResult to act as its police force to shut down sites worldwide showing games illegally.

So far, 2009 hasn’t been a great year for the Premier League in regards to online piracy. In July, the Premier League lost its battle to claim statutory damages against YouTube. And now the ruling by the Israeli court is another blow to the Premier League. The story, however, is far from over.

12 thoughts on “Israeli Court Ruling Spells Trouble For Premier League”

  1. I think this article misses the point. People do not WANT to watch matches on the Internet, they are simply being forced to because of no alternative. I have no interest in watching grainy, choppy video when I could turn on my TV and watch the game in HD. Unfortunately (I am in the United States), we get one or two games a week in HD here, so I guess I’ll just keep watching online. People WANT to watch these games on TV, but the Premier League goes out of its way to shut out the fans.

    1. If you live in the United States, you should have access to:
      ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic
      Fox Soccer and

      Ask most UK citizens and you’ll find that we actually have access to more games than a lot of them.

      That argument would only hold up if you had NO option but to watch the game illegally because it wasn’t available. Even if your area doesn’t have Fox Soccer Channel, you have ESPN and two legal online options.

      I get what you’re saying but I really don’t think it holds up.

      1. You can have all those platforms and it doesn’t amount to squat if YOUR TEAM isn’t featured. I’ve watched Fulham twice this season live thanks to a web feed rather than have to wait for a long delayed broadcast and their are some match days when you don’t even get a replay option.

        I don’t care about the rest of the league, I support Fulham so I will seek out any way to follow them…legal or not.

        1. To each his own, I guess. I’m not saying it’s “wrong” to do so – I just personally couldn’t do it. I’d feel I’m hurting the sport by doing so.

          Again, given those legal options you will never miss a single EPL game. ESPN2, Fox Soccer (cable or web site), and Setanta-i have every single game. Though – yes, it may be delayed (but always on the same day).

    2. I disagree Matthew. I watch most of my Premier League football on my computer (legally, I might add) and often prefer that option than watching it on TV. More and more consumers are watching “television” online with sites such as Hulu and BBC iPlayer. And more and more people will watch Premier League football online.

      The Gaffer

        1. Ops. He was the first one. I got it.

          I wouldn’t say I prefer online options.

          I do think Setanta-i looks really, really nice though.

  2. Major League Baseball has a brilliant model for this. Last season I paid ten dollars a month for access to live streaming of ball games (in a variety of bitrates), and for access to an archive of all of the games played so far in the season. I understand there’s are differences (the main one being that there are so many baseball games a DAY to digest that this would be worthwhile to casual and serious fans alike) but I can’t help but wonder if this model would work in the Premier League too.

  3. Gaffer,

    I’m not sure you’re economic or logic is per se valid mainly because the Premier League has been growing and making money all while its games and kits have been being pirated the world over. Furthermore Israeli law has no affect anywhere but Israel. It’s not even persuasive law if looked at by other national courts in a similar case within their own jurisdiction.

    I don’t think having the ability to watch the game online means less people ipso facto watch fewer games on TV. If you can go down to a pub to watch the game for free, how many people won’t go and do that? The people on the internet are people abroad, in places all the games aren’t readily available all around you like in England. The fact that losers the world over are sitting in front of their computer to watch the BPL should be seen as a good thing cause its encouraging fandom and future spending on legitimate BPL sales of some sort.

  4. I watch footy online when the matches are not being broadcast live!

    as others have said, if the game was on telly, then i’d happily watch it! but when the broadcasters decide to show two shiitty teams instead of the teams i’m interested in watching, then i will look elsewhere to find the teams i’m interested in watching!


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