Premier League targets web TV pirates

Monday, September 21 2009,

By Andrew Laughlin,

The Premier League could move to shut down a peer-to-peer website illegally streaming English football games as part of a crackdown on piracy,

Registered in The Netherlands, has allegedly been carrying a range of illegal sports coverage, including Premier League games and England's one-day internationals against Australia, as well as rugby and Formula One action.

By using peer-to-peer technology, the site acts as a gateway for users to share a variety of content with each other. It is expected to stream Manchester United's Carling Cup game against Wolverhampton Wanderers this Wednesday.

The Premier League currently accrues around £1 billion a year from domestic rights agreements with broadcasters to show games, along with an estimated £625m from overseas deals.

However, the increasing level of available bandwidth on broadband networks is now enabling users to access more sophisticated streaming services, including pirated games.

According to Premier League figures, there were around 1,800 instances of illegal streaming of matches during the 2008/09 season, with 90% of these being successful.

The league uses a company called NetResult to safeguard its intellectual property, including the removal of illicit content and also shutting down of transgressing websites. It has also issued Google-owned website YouTube with a lawsuit over alleged illegal hosting of football games on the video sharing site.

Problems are being compounded by the fact that despite the Premier League introducing a domestic policy of not showing any live matches at 3pm on a Saturday, it has not replicated the rule overseas.

Therefore, media analysts believe that this opens up an attractive opportunity for pirates to show games in the UK that cannot be shown legally.

Simon Denyer, chief executive of digital rights agency Perform, which arranges sports highlights packages on legal websites, said that piracy of games is becoming an increasing problem.

"If you don't allow someone to watch [games] from an official source, then the pirates do it for you," said Denyer. "The biggest problem is the 3pm Premier League kick-offs."

However, he stressed that most games available on illegal websites are of a "very low quality, with strange commentary and graphics".

Last month, the government signalled its intention to boost the powers recently put forward in the Digital Britain report to combat illegal file-sharing.

Led by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, ministers want more stringent measures for persistent file-sharers and copyright infringers, including cutting off their internet connections.

However, Virgin Media criticised the plans, largely because it believes that "persuasion not coercion" is the best way to influence consumer behaviour on file-sharing.