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Ahead of this year’s World Cup in Brazil, soccer governing body FIFA took the unprecedented move of warning dozens of video websites to be vigilant in preventing users from posting illegal live streams of tournament matches and to take down any streams as soon as they appeared. FIFA warned the sites that if they didn’t comply, criminal charges would follow.
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So as the World Cup enters the second round, what impact has FIFA had on illicit online streaming? Google received takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for 68 domains allegedly screening World Cup matches but rejected most of them, allowing 46 of those sites to remain in its search results. MarkScan, a company working on behalf of several World Cup copyright holders, filled hundreds of similar DMCA requests with similarly unimpressive results.
Several of the MarkScan takedown requests were for links to articles on legitimate news sites explaining how to legally watch the World Cup online. Several broadcasters, including ESPN and Univision in the U.S., are streaming the tournament matches online, either for their paying subscribers or free of charge. One particularly egregious takedown request was for an article on THR about FIFA testing 4K broadcast technology at the World Cup.
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But no one denies that the problem of illegal streaming is a real one. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, there were more than 18,000 illegal broadcasts of games over the Internet during the 2010 World Cup, accounting for millions of illicit viewers. The situation is likely worse this time around as broadband penetration has increased worldwide. Graham Kill, chief executive at piracy control firm Irdeto, told the BBC that for just one random match — Germany vs. Portugal on June 16 — he estimates that some nine million viewers watched on pirate streams.
It’s hard to estimate damage in dollar terms to copyright holders. In many territories, World Cup matches are available for free on public broadcasters. This is not the case in much of Asia, however, where fans often have to shell out for pricey pay-TV packages to legally watch matches.
Kill admitted it was “probably impossible” to completely stop World Cup piracy but that rights holders could act to disrupt the pirate business model and its streaming service. “No one wants to miss that crucial goal in a World Cup game because we disrupt the service, and that causes people to drift toward the legitimate service,” Kill told the BBC.
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FIFA has had better luck getting legitimate broadcasters to enforce copyright rules outside their home territories. German pubwebs ARD and ZDF, for example, pulled their World Cup broadcasts off the Eutelsat’s Hot Bird satellite system to avoid violating rights deals by allowing viewers outside Germany to watch the matches. Turkish public network TRT similarly complied, taking its World Cup broadcasts off services that can been seen in France and Africa.
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