YouTube averts Belgian infringement claim with alert technology

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BRUSSELS -- YouTube has staved off the threat of copyright infringement action from the Belgian Professional Football League by offering a technology that alerts the soccer authority when its matches are illegally broadcast on the Internet.

The offer came after the league threatened to sue the Google-owned Web site for letting soccer fans post videos of its latest matches.

However, after meeting with Google and YouTube representatives in Brussels, the league said it will review the situation in September and make a decision based on the effectiveness of the technology.

"We'll see how it goes for a month, and then we'll meet again for a new evaluation of the situation," league general secretary Robert Sterckx said.

The UK's Premier Soccer league filed suit in May as the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action against YouTube over clips from its broadcasts ending up on the video-sharing site. The Premier case, along with Viacom's $1billion suit on the same issues, are proceeding in New York before Judge Louis Stanton.

The Belgian league has not ruled out a future legal action.

"We want to maintain our rights," Sterckx said. "The league owns certain rights for broadcast images of the championship. We cannot accept that a third party broadcasts these images without authorization or compensation."

The league contacted Google after highlights of the first games of the new soccer season, played Aug. 3-4, were posted by fans on the YouTube site.

The €36 million-a-year ($48.5 million) broadcasting rights for Belgium's top soccer division -- the Jupiler League -- are held by BelgacomTV, the interactive digital TV service of telecoms carrier Belgacom.

Flemish public broadcaster VRT and French-language public broadcaster RTBF both have contracts with Belgacom TV allowing them to show highlights of Jupiler League matches.

THR, ESQ. staff contributed to this report.
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