Hurry up, the football’s on in a minute….oh wait, it’s been blocked….


firstrow-sports

I was thinking about how much money is spent by the big tv and satellite companies, just so that we can watch the football from the comfort of our armchairs. According to the BBC news website, BT have just spent £246m while BSkyB spend around £760m. All well and good if it guarantees them viewers. In my house there doesn’t seem to be a break between cricket, motor sport and football, and I suspect the same is true of many households. Sport is big money and people will spend shed loads of money for the convenience of watching their favourite sport at home or on their tablet. Knowing this, it’s not really a gamble by the likes of BT and BSkyB to spend such sums. Or is it?

If you could watch your favourite sports for free, streamed live to your computer or tablet, why would you pay?

FirstRow have been enabling exactly that, much to the annoyance of the FA, who have the copyright in the recordings of all Premier League football matches. Lots of other rights-holders, such as PGA European Tour, are also distressed.  They have tried to stop their activities (in the US, some of their domains have been seized) but the company simply springs up in another domain.

FirstRow are infringing the copyright in the ‘Clean Live Feed’ of the matches, which is transmitted to licence holders, for transmitting. It’s quite a complex process, which is best described by Arnold J.

“The streams that are indexed on FirstRow are provided by third party streamers using one of a number of User Generated Content (“UGC”) websites. There are around six or seven such UGC sites which are commonly used for this purpose, one of the most popular of which is called 04stream.com. There are a number of stages to the process.

First, the third party streamer digitally captures a broadcast of a live sports event on  his or her computer. The captured broadcast may be one that the streamer is watching  on his television or computer legally (e.g. via a legitimate subscription) or it may be  an illegal stream. Secondly, the streamer sends the captured images in real time to the server of a UGC site. Thirdly, the streamer uses the UGC site to create an “embed code” which enables the stream player to be embedded into a website like FirstRow.  Fourthly, the streamer submits the embed code to FirstRow. If it is accepted, it will be listed as a link on FirstRow. It appears that FirstRow has moderators who vet and index these submissions. It is common for multiple links to be listed for each event. These may comprise multiple versions of the same broadcast and/or different broadcasts. Fifthly, the user clicks on the link, thereby enabling the user to watch the stream. ”

FirstRow is bigger than FT.com and LastMinute.com. This means that it is able to generate vast streams of income – notably from companies such as Bet365.com.  ( The FA’s expert estimated a revenue of between five and nine million annually!) FirstRow is even being used in Pubs across the UK, and averages around 10 million users worldwide.

FirstRow operates under false names and addresses, from a multitude of domains, making it impossible to find them. Cease and Desist letters have been ignored. The FA had no option but to turn to the law, and ask for an injunction. And that, in a nutshell, is what the case of FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE LTD v BRITISH SKY BROADCASTING LTD & 5 ORS [2013] EWHC 2058 (Ch) was about. What makes this case stand out from other recent media law copyright cases, is that it is not about peer2peer infringment. Using s97A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, the claimants asked for an injunction against the service providers – such as BSkyB, TalkTalk, Virgin and BT. This was not defended …..no surprises there! They didn’t even turn up for the hearing! Those service providers must now take down any of the FirstRow sites that they are aware of. 

Having won their match, the tournament now begins. FirstRow are reported to have said that as their users are mostly ‘kids who cannot afford to pay to watch the games’, they have no intention of stopping streaming.  Many users will, in any case, be knowledgeable enough to circumvent the blocking measures, and of course, the site is hosted outside the UK, making it outside the reach of UK law.

I didn't have a picture of a mole....

I didn’t have a picture of a mole. It was this or a rabbit. Watch out for the rabbit at a later date…….

Torrentfreak calls this a ‘game of whack a mole’. . .

I watch with interest to see whether that’s the latest game to make it on to the FirstRow fixtures list!

Although I don’t pay for sports channels (though my Mr would probably be happy if I did!) I used to do so, for all my sons to enjoy. I would think it must be quite galling for those that pay the price, seeing others piggybacking off their monthly subscription fees.

Would you pay, if you could watch for free?

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