Unauthorised online streaming of live entertainment that is otherwise available through a pay-per-view model may be down for the count.

Duco Events, a boxing match promoter in New Zealand, has announced it intends to commence legal action against both the creators of such streams and their viewers.

A fight between Joseph Parker and Alexander Dimitrenko in early October cost $49.95 to watch through a SkyTV broadcast. However, during the match, many online fans shared links to illegal streams on Facebook and elsewhere over the internet. 40-50 live streams shared on social media sites were shut down on the night, with impending action against the thousands of viewers of those streams planned. This success was attributed to improved cooperation between Facebook, Duco and SkyTV’s anti-piracy teams on the night of the match, which led to the streams being quickly removed before they were widely disseminated.

A previously televised fight saw civil proceedings being taken by Duco against eight streamers of the fight, which, on that occasion, was viewed by over 20 000 people online. While social media commenters emphasised that the age of pay-per-view is over, and that stream hosts were merely responding to untapped demand from viewers, efforts against illegal streamers have intensified.

Viewers of these illegal livestreams may not have cause for concern. Clive Elliot, QC indicated in a recent Radio NZ article that live streaming was a grey area under New Zealand law, where only illegal downloads were officially sanctioned. He further questioned the efficacy of going after individual viewers, where the $50 amount payable to watch the fight through SkyTV would likely be the maximum that Duco could recover from each viewer.

There are also concerns from privacy watchdogs that if Facebook provides confidential information about the viewers of live-streams to companies such as Duco, this would overstep the mark on disclosure of sensitive details. This has been echoed in Australia with the Dallas Buyers Club case, finalised last year in the Federal Court. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were initially ordered to provide discovery of a list of names and addresses of account holders associated with IP addresses that had downloaded the film, to facilitate the sending of letters demanding a penalty. However this did not eventuate. Perram J of the Federal Court noted that the power to obtain preliminary discovery “can be used, I accept, to garner information about unidentified wrongdoers not only to sue them but also to negotiate with them. However, in both cases the power does not extend to facilitating court cases or negotiating positions lacking legal substance”.

In Australia, copying and reproducing works is similarly disallowed under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), with amendments in 2015 making it illegal for ISPs to give access to sites with pirated content through a website blocking provision. However, no case has ever been brought under this provision against a viewer of illegal content.

Regardless, Duco’s determination to take legal action against viewers for the lost profits indicates a growing willingness in principle to stamp out illegal streaming and protect the valuable revenue streams that come from rights deals with providers such as SkyTV. With the rise of similar online sports streaming services by Australian providers, businesses should take care to disassociate themselves from illegal content streaming, and ensure that sports matches are only sourced from legitimate providers.