On 14 May 2018, the Premier League announced that an illegal streaming supplier had been forced into liquidation after agreeing to pay damages of £600,000 for infringing copyright of the Premier League.
Ace TV had been selling subscriptions to view unauthorized streams of Premier League matches to consumers in the UK and reportedly had over 15,000 subscribers.
The news follows earlier reports that ACE TV had stopped accepting new subscriptions and subsequently closed down its service due to the impact of legal action taken by the Premier League.
All such subscriptions have been cancelled and the Premier League notes that consumers who "enter into agreements with illegal businesses … risk being victims of fraud or identity theft" as well as being left out of pocket, reportedly to a collective sum of £353,000.
In a move that may have wider implications for users of such unauthorised services, the Premier League also announced that personal details of Ace TV customers had been made available too and would be reviewed by the Premier League.
Stemming the tide
Illegal streaming of sports content has been a major headache for rights holders and authorised distributors.
Over 2 million Kodi-type streaming devices, which come either pre-loaded with access to unauthorised content or can be repurposed to allow such access, have reportedly been sold in the UK alone.
The pay-TV market in particular is facing wider threats with many consumers opting to ‘cord cut’ and move away from premium subscription services with a preference towards cheaper OTT (‘over-the-top’) platforms. Unauthorised access to content only serves to increase the impact of such changes.
For rights holders, pressure on legitimate subscription services poses a serious threat to the value that can be extracted from potential licensees, while for broadcasters, this poses a potential threat to advertising revenues.
The Premier League has been particularly active in taking enforcement action against infringing services and the legal action against Ace TV further demonstrates this approach.
We have previously reported on various actions taken by rights holders to restrict access to unauthorised sports content, including:
In addition, rights holders seek to work with law enforcement authorities, as was demonstrated in October 2017 when a Teeside shop owner was prosecuted and given an 18 month suspended jail sentence for selling streaming devices designed for the purpose of allowing unauthorised access to copyright-protected content.
It will be interesting to see what action, if any, follows in relation to the individual customers of Ace TV.
Lessons for rights holders
Whilst unauthorised streaming of copyright-protected content remains a major concern for the Premier League, the announcements surrounding the granting of the High Court blocking injunction and the liquidation of Ace TV demonstrates it is having success in tackling such services.
It is important for rights holders to actively monitor and, where appropriate, take action against infringing services. Indeed, the knowledge that personal details of Ace TV subscribers have been made available to the Premier League may give some potential users of such services second thoughts.
In addition, it is also typical for rights holders and licensees to agree contractual provisions relating to preventing unauthorised access to content and pursuing action against infringing services. Such clauses will remain integral to such media rights deals and the interests of both rights holders and licensees.