Premier League secures FirstRow piracy block

17-07-2013

The English Premier League (PL) has won a blocking order against streaming website FirstRow, the first UK injunction applied to a sports website.  

Mr Justice Arnold at the England & Wales High Court ordered BSkyB, BT, Everything Everywhere, Talk Talk, O2 and Virgin – the UK’s biggest Internet service providers (ISPs) – to cut off access to the site on Tuesday.

WIPR reported last month that the PL, which owns the copyright in TV recordings of all recorded matches in England’s senior football competition, moved to block the site under section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA).

The provision has been used before to block access to music and movie downloading services such as Fenopy, Kicksass Torrents and The Pirate Bay.

In the PL case, Arnold said the application was unusual as it covers football rights instead of musical or movie rights, and was seeking to block a streaming site rather than a peer-to-peer network.

Swedish-based FirstRow is widely-used, according to Arnold, transmitting football matches as well as other sporting events. Experts testifying in court said it may be earning between £5.3 and £9.5 million in annual advertising revenues.

The judge found that the website does communicate copyrighted works to the public and infringes the PL’s rights in those works, therefore satisfying the requirements for an injunction.

Reacting to the decision, a PL spokesman said: “We are extremely pleased that the order blocking this website has been granted and we will be enforcing it, in conjunction with the ISPs, ahead of the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season.”

Arnold also made it clear that any publicans using the site to screen PL matches in their premises are communicating copyright works to the public and therefore breaching section 20 of the CDPA.

The PL spokesman added: “The PL will be significantly upping its enforcement activity in this area in the coming months, so any publican who is being offered a service that is not either BSkyB or BT Vision [which broadcast PL matches] should be aware that these are illegal and they open themselves up to the possibility of prosecution.”

Tuesday’s judgement was much shorter than many other recent blocking cases, said Gareth Dickson, associate at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP.

“This might seem insignificant but in fact it suggests that we now have a pretty well established body of law when it comes to injunctions against ISPs.”

He added: “Two other aspects are noteworthy. The first is that Arnold had no problem with the CJEU’s comments in ITV v TVCatchup on the relevant ‘public’ [which said re-transmissions of TV broadcasts online to an indeterminate number of recipients matches the ‘public’ definition]. 

“Some people were concerned that the CJEU might have changed the test or muddied the waters, but Arnold clearly doesn’t see it that way. The other is that Arnold found that the posting of links to infringing content was a communication of that content to the public. There is currently a reference pending before the CJEU on this point, so it will be interesting to see what additional information that court might provide, and even whether they agree.”

Both Virgin and Sky told WIPR that they haven’t yet received a blocking order for FirstRow, but both companies said they obey court orders when they receive them. The remaining ISPs did not respond to a request for comment. 

premier league, first row, www.firstrow1.eu, justice arnold, section 97a