Premier League’s policy on online match highlights helps, not hurts, piracy


The Premier League continues to wage a war on social media sites that feature illegal clips of matches that are uploaded by users. First, it was YouTube. Then, it was Vine. And this week, it’s Streamable. The list will undoubtedly continue as soccer fans (and pirates) look for new ways to share clips.

But at the same time the Premier League tries to police the Internet and remove its copyrighted material, the league is its own worst enemy. The league prevents rights holders (yes, the same rights holders who pay millions for the privilege to legally show highlights) from making the match highlights immediately available.

For example, here were the stipulations of when rights holders could publish highlights during the 2014/15 season:

• During a live game, rights holders have exclusive rights to publish in-match highlights online,

• Rights holders are prevented from publishing the match highlights of Premier League games online until midnight UK time,

• Match highlights can only include 1-2 minutes of footage of a single game, and

• If match highlights include more than 1 game (i.e. a roundup of games), a maximum of only 5 minutes of footage can be shown (i.e. no more than 1 minute per game).

So for Premier League matches on a Saturday that kick off at 7:45am ET, 10am ET or 12:30pm ET, soccer fans in the United States have to wait anywhere from 4.5 to 9 hours after a game ends to watch the legal highlights of the game online. It’s no wonder then that many soccer fans turn to illegal highlights on social media. By the time that midnight UK time / 7pm ET embargo rolls around, the games are very old news.

Presumably the Premier League creates the embargo to give priority to television. But in a day and age when the number of soccer fans watching games online is continuing to increase, the Premier League’s stipulations are woefully inadequate and outdated — so much so that it almost feels like the Premier League is trying to give pirates as much of an advantage as possible. Of course, that isn’t true, but the Premier League’s continued focus on TV to the detriment of its online and mobile strategy is frustrating, to say the least.

Unfortunately for the rights holders, the blackout windows the Premier League has in place makes the rights holders themselves look incompetent. If soccer fans are complaining that it takes too long for match highlights to be added to websites such as, the soccer fans will blame the rights holder, not the Premier League. However, it’s the rights holders who have their hands tied behind their back.

Even if the rights holders need to do a better job at making it easier for soccer fans to find the highlights themselves. For example, NBC Sports recently redesigned its website, and it’s now harder than before to find the Premier League videos (we’ll save you the headache; you can find them here).

Having said that, even if soccer fans become more well-informed about where to find legal highlights of games, it still doesn’t change the fact that the Premier League forces rights holders to delay the availability of games for several hours. Until the Premier League changes that, online piracy of Premier League games will always win in one way or another.

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