Univision Must Face Lawsuit for Streaming Soccer Matches on Facebook

Jugaron como nunca, perdieron como siempre.
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No matter the language, soccer remains one of the world's most popular sports. But is a Spanish-language telecast of a soccer match a whole different game than an English-language telecast? Maybe not.

On Friday, a New York federal judge allowed Dish Network to move ahead in a lawsuit that alleges Univision has undercut the value of a licensing deal by streaming soccer matches on Facebook.

Univision broadcasts matches played in Mexico's top league known as Liga MX. In its complaint, Dish stated these matches are "a major viewing attraction for Hispanic-American television audiences — one might compare it to the National Football League in terms of the interest it generates."

Dish accused Univision of breaching a license deal when it began streaming the soccer matches while at the same time airing them live on its broadcast network.  

"The only difference is that the Facebook Live broadcasts are in English," stated the complaint.

Read the contract, responded Univision.

"Dish admits that the rights it obtained from Univision under the Agreement were to Spanish-language Linear Services, including Liga MX Matches in the Spanish Language," wrote Univision's lawyers in a motion to dismiss last October. "Dish's allegations further confirm that the English Language Liga MX Matches are an entirely different product than the Spanish Language Liga MX Matches that appear on the Linear Services, in that those live streams: (1) are in the English language; (2) use different announcers; (3) offer different and unique commentary; (4) involve different audio production staff; (5) require a different audio path; and (6) provide different graphics."

Univision faulted Dish for failure to identify any provision in the contract that provided rights to "this separate and distinct programming."

Dish then replied that Univision had it backwards by focusing on the contract's talk of Spanish-language programming. Dish argued there was nothing in its license suggesting a limitation. The rights are broad, asserted Dish. A soccer match is a soccer match.

"[T]he most plausible reading of the Agreement is that Dish did not contract for the Spanish-language portions of the Linear Services only — it contracted for all of the Linear Services regardless of language," wrote Dish's lawyers, also making the case that distribution of Univision online for free wasn't permissible under the contract.

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan has rejected Univision's motion to dismiss. Her opinion is currently under seal so the reasoning behind the order will be secret until the parties have a chance to redact the commercially-sensitive portions of her opinion.

Meanwhile, the feud between Dish and Univision has escalated in the year since the lawsuit was first filed. In the past month, the parties have been at a standoff on a new contract as Univision has been blacked-out on the Dish service. The latest decision could impact any ongoing negotiations between the two companies.