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 UEFA.com 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.