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As the 2017/18 Premier League season fast approaches, a key development has arisen in the long running copyright infringement and anti-piracy war between the Premier League and illegal streamers of its content and live matches. The Premier League has recently been awarded a UK High Court ‘blocking’ order.

The court order permits the Premier League to demand that all UK internet service providers block servers that are hosting illegal streams of live matches or content. A similar order was granted for the final two months of the 2016/17 season and allegedly more than 5,000 server IP addresses that had been streaming illegal Premier League content were blocked. A number of prominent third party apps and add-ons which allow users to watch premium content, such as live Premier League matches, are predicted to close down as a result.

The new order is in place for the entirety of the upcoming season and allows the Premier League to block access of an entire computer server which could be hosting multiple streams of content. Previously, the Premier League could only block individual streams of content. The order therefore appears to carry greater weight and should allow the Premier League to tackle a greater number of servers and streamers more effectively.

The other primary target of the order is the suppliers of TV streaming boxes. These boxes, such as Kodi, are pre-loaded with third party apps or add-ons which allow the viewer to watch premium content without paying a subscription fee.

The Premier League argues it is protecting its copyright as well as the investments made by its broadcasting partners, namely BT and Sky, which paid a record £5.14bn for the TV broadcasting rights to live matches until 2019.
Preserving the value of its broadcasting rights directly affects the Premier League’s commercial value and brand. This, together with the tangible ability to prevent illegal streaming of its content, could provide the Premier League with a stronger commercial offering to potential bidders ahead of the next swathe of auctioning.

There is an irony when comparing the increasing fees broadcasters are paying for Premier League content, achieved through an auction process that serves to do nothing more than drive up the cost of the TV subscription packages, with the prohibitive fees denying access to fans who simply cannot afford to pay for the content.

As can be seen from the falling viewing numbers for the 2016/17 season and the attempts by Sky at repackaging sports content offerings ahead of this season, the costs of watching Premier League content are likely fuelling the numbers of those willing to illegally stream content.

The increasing broadcasting fees are also arguably the greatest contributing factor to the inflation of player transfer fees, player salaries and fees payable to intermediaries by Premier League clubs. It is arguable whether the Premier League’s approaches to defending its commercial value and growing its brand have conversely contributed to and incentivised the very threats it faces to its commercial worth and its intellectual property.

In light of its obligations to its broadcasting partners, the Premier League could consider streaming matches online akin to the services provided by Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. The Premier League could negotiate the non-exclusive streaming rights to broadcast matches as a way to combat the illegal online streaming threats (providing these rights do not infringe the existing TV rights deal).

If you have any questions relating to copyright infringement or if you wish to discuss brand strategy or managing your intellectual property portfolio, please do not hesitate to contact Laura Trapnell by email or by telephone on 023 8048 2114.

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