Blocking injunctions have become common tools for rights holders and we have written about the topic previously here, here and here. But, to date, within the world of sport, blocking injunctions have been sought exclusively by owners of the rights in the television footage of football. However, the case of Matchroom Boxing Ltd & Anor v British Telecommunications Plc & Ors¹ shows that other sports rights holders are just as determined to protect the substantial revenues that can be generated from ownership of such rights. By way of context, one match can generate in excess of £25 million pounds if broadcast on a pay-per-view (“PPV”) basis. With Matchroom Boxing Ltd (“Matchroom”) organising up to 23 professional boxing matches per year the revenues in question are vast.
A number of Matchroom’s matches feature the British boxer Anthony Joshua (“AJ”) meaning viewing interest is even greater. In the UK, the matches are broadcast by Sky pursuant to exclusive agreements with Matchroom under which (in the case of matches featuring AJ) Matchroom own the copyrights in the broadcasts and films and (in the case of other matches organised by Matchroom) Sky owns the copyrights, but has assigned the right to bring the present proceedings to Matchroom. Sky broadcasts the Events on either a standard or a PPV basis. Sky pays Matchroom a substantial fee for the broadcasting rights and in addition shares the revenue from PPV matches with Matchroom. For these reasons Sky supported Matchroom's application. The other five defendants either consented to or did not oppose the application.
Matchroom sought an order requiring the defendants² to block, or attempt to block, access to a number of target servers. Mr Justice Arnold expressed that the order sought in the current case differed from those made in favour of FAPL and UEFA in his previous judgements in two main respects:
1. Irregular timing of the events
Whereas the Premier League and UEFA have fixture lists and agreed cup tie dates; the timing of boxing matches is irregular meaning that it is not possible for target servers to be identified in quite the same way. To address this the order notes that the criteria are to be applied by a particular form of monitoring carried out in a seven-day period prior to each match organised by Matchroom. Whilst Mr Justice Arnold noted there was a potential risk of over-blocking, it was noted that Matchroom’s evidence showed there should be no real difference in practice.
2. Matches covered within the scope of the order
Whereas the FAPL and UEFA orders cover a season (or part of a season) and list all the matches within the relevant period, this is not possible in the present case since the order is to last two years and matches are not fixed sufficiently far in advance. To address this the order provides for matches to be notified to the defendants at least four weeks in advance. Mr Justice Arnold was satisfied that the Court had jurisdiction to make the order and that it was appropriate to exercise his discretion to do so for essentially the same reasons given in UEFA v BT I .
The case demonstrates the continuing development of measures aimed at tackling streaming servers that deliver infringing live streams of sporting events. It is interesting that the Courts are willing to adapt the orders they are granting and in this case accepted a new method of monitoring and identifying target servers. Ultimately the case reaffirms that blocking injunctions are becoming well established provided those who seek their protection can continue to provide evidence that they are working and that legitimate websites are not being blocked.
It will be interesting to track the continuing development of blocking injunctions and their potential application within a variety of sports.