EPL takes down 30,000 clips of action on opening weekend

The English Premier League was prepared for the opening weekend of the football season with a well coordinated move against illegal steaming services and individuals loading clips online to sites such as YouTube. However, the ongoing fight against piracy is set to be a “game of cat and mouse” according to analysts.

The Premier League obtained a High Court Order that will require UK internet service providers (ISPs) to block servers that are hosting illegal streams of its matches. The order – which will be in place for the entire 2017/18 Premier League season – allows the League to combat the sale and use of illicit streaming devices, including pre-loaded IPTV and Kodi boxes.

Illegal streams blocked

During the opening weekend of the season, the Premier League took down 30,000 clips of action, 20,000 of them on YouTube, according to a Premier League spokesman.

The spokesman told SVG Europe: “More than 600 unique illegal streams were blocked during the opening weekend of the 2017/18 Premier League. There was also widespread disruption to apps and add-ons that provide access to illegal content, which will have left consumers disappointed and out of pocket.

“Our broadcast partners, including Sky, BT and the BBC, provide fans with many ways to watch Premier League football legitimately, and their investment enables clubs to develop and sign exciting players, build great stadiums, and support schools and communities – all things that fans enjoy and society benefits from,” the Premier League spokesman concluded.

One of the most significant tools in use by court order in the UK is IP blocking, which acts as an ‘umbrella’ preventing the IP streams from being accessed by consumers in the UK by their ISPs, Sam Rosen, vice president at ABI Research, told SVG Europe. “IP blocking, in which UK internet service providers (ISPs) don’t route traffic to IP addresses responsible for delivering web pages (such as guides) or content (IP video streams) of pirated streams, acts as a big umbrella. It can prevent the pirate streams (or rain, in this analogy) entering the UK. However, it doesn’t have the same impact in other geographies. The size of the umbrella – the number of IPTV services blocked – is dependent primarily on the resources that the English Premier League spends in finding services and delivering the IP addresses to the ISPs. The positioning of the umbrella (enforced in the UK, Australia, etc) is a matter of the regulation and court orders in place to support the Premier League in its fight against piracy.”

He added that other approaches to blocking piracy require advanced tools in the transmitter or receivers, such as watermarking. “An anti-piracy service can then find the feed, detect the source, and disable that particular subscriber or receiver. As signals are disabled in the middle of matches, pirates must scramble to source new feeds to keep streaming matches,” continued Rosen. “Anti-piracy measures which impact the source of the signals can have international impact, compared to IP blocking that only works within regions.”

Cat and mouse

However, Rosen stated that, “the fight on piracy will always be a game of cat and mouse”.  He noted: “When content holders are as proactive at disabling pirate streams at critical moments, consumers will begin to understand that piracy is unreliable, inconvenient and perhaps illegal.  This shifts the tide away from pirate services to legitimate services.”

Rosen added: “From a broader perspective the content industry, including sports leagues, movie studios, broadcasters and OTT services are shifting their focus from a device-oriented content protection focus to a service oriented content protection/piracy prevention focus, including monitoring of cybercrimes. Proactive cooperation between content holders, content distributors, national police and courts helps develop systems, like that used by the English Premier League, which can decrease the target for pirate services. It would be naïve to suggest that live streaming of football is dead; however, I think it’s fair to say that content holders are starting the awareness to minimise the monetary impact it causes by targeting piracy at its source, within the largest content marketplaces such as the US and UK, as well as disrupting the funding of pirate organisations.”

A similar order was obtained by the League for the final two months of the 2016/17 season and was highly effective, according to the organisation, with more than 5,000 server IP addresses blocked that had previously been streaming illegal Premier League content. The League’s anti-piracy efforts also contributed to a range of prominent apps and add-ons being closed down as the law catches up with them, leading to consumers who have purchased illegal pre-loaded streaming devices being out of pocket.

The Premier League works with provider of software security technology and cyber services, Irdeto, helping to identify and take action against suppliers of illegal systems. The League works with a number of agencies in the area of anti-piracy but it tends not to broadcast who, or what they do, said the spokesperson for the organisation.

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