The May 2nd bout between Floyd "Money" Mayweather and Manny "Pac-Man" Pacquiao(the "Fight") was billed as the most anticipated boxing match in recent history. The run-up to the Fight involved years of intense back-and-forth between the two camps (the numerous negotiation attempts were its own version of a 12-round slugfest) before the two fighters finally agreed to terms. From a fan's perspective, the May 2nd fight promised to settle the debate over this era's best pound-for-pound boxer – but the match drew global interest for much more than that.
Economically, the Fight shattered the previous record for the largest purse in boxing history (the $152 million purse earned by Mayweather's 2013 bout with Canelo Alvarez),and netted more than $400 million in pay-per-view buys alone and about $500 million in total revenue. Pay-per-view ("PPV") buys represent a considerable chunk of total value, and the Fight commanded around $89.95 per PPV buy (and much more for commercial subscribers), with a reported 4.4 million PPV buys. These figures would cause any boxing promoter to leap onto the ring ropes and pound their chest in triumph. Not surprisingly, the Fight also drew anonymous online sites seeking a piece of the action by promising to show free live streams of the bout.
In a complaint filed on April 28, 2015 in the United States District Court in the Central District of California, Showtime Networks Inc. ("Showtime") and Home Box Office Inc. ("HBO"), along with Mayweather and Pacquiao's promotion companies, Mayweather Promotions, LLC and Top Rank, Inc. (together, the "Plaintiffs"), claimed a host of online streaming websites (pretenders, not legitimate contenders) planned to broadcast unauthorized live Internet streams of the Fight's coverage in violation of federal copyright laws (Showtime Networks, Inc. v. Doe 1, No. 15-03147 (C.D. Cal. filed Apr. 30, 2015)).
According to the complaint, the Fight was to be a jointly produced event with exclusive rights held by HBO and Showtime; the agreement between HBO and Showtime specifically prohibited online streams to United States audiences. At the time the complaint was filed, several online distributors allegedly promised a "free online stream" of the Fight to interested parties, often with embedded graphics of the fighters and countdown timers to the event.
The Plaintiffs argued that unauthorized streams of the Fight would cause irreparable harm by unlawfully infringing on the exclusive rights of reproduction and public performance under the Copyright Act. Additionally, any unauthorized broadcast would throw Plaintiffs against the ropes by threatening to irreparably harm Plaintiffs' relationships with consumers, PPV providers, and authorized carriers, who relied on consumer purchases of the Fight.
The right of first transmission and publication of a popular live sporting event is highly valuable, giving Plaintiffs extra incentive to attempt to seek expedited relief. A week before the Fight, Plaintiffs sent an advance notice of potential infringement to the identified streaming websites (i) demanding the removal of all references to streaming the Fight, and (ii) requiring written assurance that the Fight would not be streamed. Plaintiffs' demand provided a 48-hour window to comply, to which they received no responses. Consequently, Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and other injunctive relief to prohibit distribution of the Fight.
On April 30, 2015, the court granted a temporary restraining order, spurring two of the Defendant websites to remove online offers of free streaming from their home pages. The judge was convinced that Plaintiffs had established that they would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of immediate relief – delivering a knockout blow to the several streaming sites listed in the complaint. The judge was particularly concerned with the effect such streams would have on the Plaintiffs' relationships with third-party providers and consumers, as well as the resulting economic harm.
Boxing promoters and television providers scored a decisive victory, as Internet pirates could not survive the referee's 10-count in this district court title bout.