Media outlets unite to battle online piracy

The rising tide of piracy of live video streams of major sporting action, using peer-to-peer technologies, has prompted MLB Advanced Media, among others, to mount a coordinated defence strategy.

Several major US sports properties, including the NFL, NBA, NHL and NCAA, and major media outlets including Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and NBC Universal, have organised under the leadership of MLBAM to form The Sports Coalition, a group that is pressing government trade and intellectual property officials for more stringent trade policy with regard to piracy. The group also has an international component. Several European-based properties are participating via the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, a collective similar to the BAM-organised one and spearheaded by the English Premier League.

"In 2008, online live game telecast piracy went up in spite of notable enforcement successes," said Michael Mellis, MLBAM senior vice president and general counsel. MLBAM documented more than 5,000 incidents last season of live MLB games being pirated online, a sharp rise from the 3,200 seen during 2007. "There is a close and healthy collaboration among US and European sports properties about how to approach this challenge."

The sports coalition efforts, operating mostly below the public radar for more than two years, have focused on pressing US and foreign governments to make online piracy a more overt priority of trade and intellectual rights policy.

"For media and entertainment entities such as Disney, this is another chapter in the fight given what they've experienced in the music industry," Mellis said. "For sports, this is a newer focus, but we feel like we've established a leadership position on this issue. We have recognised the problem and will remain vigilant to stay ahead of the curve."