Football fans across the UK were able to watch all 2018 FIFA World Cup games through traditional broadcasters, such as ITV. Gareth Southgate’s England team exceeded expectations by reaching the World Cup semi-finals and the excitement and World Cup fever that consumed the nation as Harry Kane scored the winning goal in injury time against Tunisia and Eric Dier scored England’s winning penalty against Colombia, lead to record TV ratings being set.
England’s semi-final against Croatia was also broadcast by ITV and continued to shatter TV rating records. ITV had an audience share of 84%, and the peak audience was 26.6 million viewers with an average audience of 24.3 million tuning in between kick-off and the final whistle. This was the highest average audience for a single football match ever. The match also had 4.3 million simulcast requests on ITV Hub – a new record, the Hub’s biggest ever number for live programming.
However, many football fans outside of the UK searched online for websites hosting illegal free feeds in attempts to bypass paywalls blocking them from watching World Cup fixtures.
This has been an issue reported on regularly recently as content owners, rights holders and platform owners are devoting significant resources and continue to work together to take down illegal streams in real-time as sport inevitably attracts a lot of global attention from pirates, despite offenders facing criminal penalties.
A recent breakthrough in the battle against illegal streaming saw a man who ran an operation providing illegal access to English Premier League football matches jailed for five years and three months in July 2018, as part of a Premier League piracy case.
It was estimated that almost 8,000 XBMC (Kodi) based devices loaded with a subscription IPTV service were said to have been sold and it was discovered that the offender also created and sold access to his own illegal streaming service – infusum.tv.
The piracy operation ran from March 2013 to July 2015, during which time over £750,000 was generated from the sale of set-top boxes, carried out from a shop and online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon. The court heard that broadcasters and the Premier League faced potential losses of £4 million per year, while using the devices in pubs exposed licensees to the risk of prosecution.
The High Court also recently granted injunctions to block access during the 2018-2019 football season to certain websites which had previously provided infringing live streams of Premier League and UEFA match footage to UK consumers.
The Premier League's application sought an order for an injunction following the expiry of an injunction that covered the season running from August 2017 to May 2018. The Judge, Mr Justice Arnold, considered that the evidence filed in support of the Premier League’s application showed that the order covering the 2017/18 season had been very effective in achieving the blocking of the infringing servers during matches, and there was no evidence that over-blocking had occurred.
Mr Justice Arnold granted a further injunction for the 2018-2019 season, with new terms enlarging the scope of the targeted servers and permitting the Premier League to wait a short while before notifying the hosting UK internet service providers (ISPs).
UEFA followed in the footsteps of the Premier League and sought variations from the previous football stream blocking injunction granted to it under copyright rules as it wanted to cover additional UEFA competitions, target more servers and make the notification of hosting ISPs subject to a short delay. Mr Justice Arnold also granted the order as sought by UEFA.
As a result, the concept of blocking injunctions therefore appears to be becoming the norm in the battle against the illegal streaming of live sporting events, with football leading the way, and imposing criminal penalties in addition to the conviction of offenders is intended to deter others from infringing the rights of content owners, rights holders and platform owners in the future.
- The Football Association Premier League Ltd v British Telecommunications Plc and others  EWHC 1828 (Ch), 18 July 2018
- Union Des Associations Europeennes De Football v British Telecommunications Plc and others  EWHC 1900 (Ch), 24 July 2018