With hundreds of millions of viewers from all over the world, the FIFA World Cup in Russia is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year.
During these weeks, fans are most concerned with the performance of their favorite teams. For FIFA and all other stakeholders, however, the World Cup is also a battle against piracy.
While most people watch the matches through licensed broadcasters, there is a large group of people who resort to unauthorized sources. These so-called “pirate” streams are available via hundreds of sites or apps, generating millions of views during popular sporting events.
Other fans are using VPNs and proxies to bypass geo-blockades to tune into legal broadcasts. By changing their virtual location to one where the World Cup is freely accessible, they can watch without paying.
These types of ‘piracy’ are a thorn in the side of rightsholders, who are doing their best to take appropriate countermeasures. Sony Entertainment Network, for example, sent out preemptive takedown notices to streaming sites a few weeks ago.
More recently we spotted a takedown notice which NetResult sent to Google, on behalf of FIFA, targeting various allegedly infringing sites.
The list includes several known offenders, such as zorrostream.net and thefirstrow.eu, and asks Google to remove these sites from search results. In addition, it also targets several URLs which ‘advise’ users how they can access World Cup streams through a VPN, which some use to bypass geo-blockades.
For example, the takedown notice lists URLs from ExpressVPN and BestVPN, which explain how users can access FIFA World Cup matches from various locations.
“The listed URLs are all either linking directly to embedded live streams of unauthorized live football content (2018 FIFA World Cup), or advising users how to access unauthorized live streams not available in their territory,” the notice reads.
Interestingly, Google decided not to remove any of the reported URLs. The search engine has given no explanation, but it’s possible that the notice in question is seen as too general. In many cases, it points to the homepages of sites, without identifying a specific copyright infringement.
Whether it’s illegal to advise users how they can use a VPN to access World Cup streams is also up for debate.
Finally, it appears that not all of the URLs identified in FIFA’s takedown notice are actually infringing. The list also includes a page from the Canadian sports service Sportsnet.ca, which is owned by Rogers Media.
FIFA’s notice also targets the American sports streaming service FuboTV, which is partly funded by investors such as AMC Networks, 21st Century Fox, and Sky.
Considering the latter, it might be wise that Google didn’t blindly honor the request.
TorrentFreak reached out to NetResult’s parent company MarkMonitor for more information on FIFA’s takedown efforts, but the company informed us that it couldn’t comment on individual brands or companies.
FIFA and other rightsholders, meanwhile, continue to fight World Cup piracy globally and on several fronts. In addition to VPN tips and traditional streaming sites, they’re also up against alleged pirate TV services such as BeoutQ, and Fly TV from Ghana.