In common with the UK’s Premier League and Serie A in Italy, LaLiga focuses on unlicensed live-streaming platforms that offer cheap or even free access to subscription-based content.
LaLiga’s prime targets include free web-based streaming sites and subscription IPTV providers. All services face potential ISP blocking under dynamic injunctions, which have flexibility built-in to tackle pirate countermeasures more effectively.
When LaLiga labeled dozens of software video players as piracy tools last year, the threshold for illegality suddenly became much less clear.
LaLiga Targets Video Players
In a submission to the European Commission in early 2022, LaLiga called out around 20 IPTV services and 30 streaming sites. A cursory glance would’ve revealed the unlicensed nature of these platforms, but LaLiga also nominated more than 80 software video players, many of them available for download on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
“It is important to note that all of these player applications allow the consumption of an innumerable amount of audiovisual contents such as sports, movies, series TV channels, etc. In other words, this problem affects the entire audiovisual and entertainment industry in general,” LaLiga said (pdf).
The goal of the submission was to have some or all of these applications named in the EU’s Counterfeiting and Piracy Watch List 2022. When the report was published early December 2022, just one of the most popular apps was listed in the ‘Piracy Apps’ section.
Called Out By European Commission
“Stakeholders from the audiovisual sector reported IPTV Smarters for inclusion in the Watch List as an IPTV turnkey solution from India,” the Commission wrote (pdf).
“It is reported to be an IPTV software solution, which trades under the brand name WHMCS Smarters and offers website design and development, customized apps on several platforms and a billing platform. The operators also offer an IPTV media player through the IPTV Smarters Pro APP.”
By also mentioning the WHMCS side of the Smarters business, the European Commission not only went beyond the functionality of the IPTV Smarters Pro app, but did so under a ‘Piracy App’ heading, using text that carried zero allegations of piracy.
The EC’s approach was nothing new, however. Last October the Motion Picture Association nominated WHMCS Smarters for ‘Notorious Market’ status in its submission to the United States Trade Representative.
The MPA labeled the whole WHMCS Smarters platform as ‘Piracy-as-a-Service (PaaS)’ but in common with the EC, stopped short of making specific allegations.
Based on their public reports to the authorities, rightsholders obviously view Smarters as problematic. The EC and USTR reports are directed at governments and authorities worldwide, but absent any specific allegations, where and how this will culminate is unknown.
In the meantime, LaLiga has just announced successful legal action in Spain.
Court Orders Google to Remove IPTV Smarters Pro
In a late December press release celebrating its anti-piracy successes over the past 12 months, LaLiga announced the outcome of legal action taken against the IPTV Smarters Pro software.
On December 22, 2022, Investigating Court No. 53 of Madrid issued an order – after a positive report from the Public Prosecutor – whereby, considering the precautionary measures requested by LaLiga, it agreed to withdraw from the Google store (Google Play) the well-known player application ‘IPTV SMARTERS PRO’, which once installed allowed – according to the conclusions of a UDEV report – to view premium television channels in which LaLiga matches were broadcast among other content. (LaLiga statement – translated)
At the time of writing the decision text isn’t available via the usual government portals, so the exact legal basis for the order remains unclear. Until the order becomes available, it’s impossible to know what was taken into consideration but, based on LaLiga’s statement, LaLiga matches were observed playing in the app.
That could also be true for Google Chrome and Firefox, provided a number of positive steps were taken by the user to add in illegal streams first, of course. The circumstances here are currently unknown but if the Smarters Pro software as delivered by Google carried illegal streams (which seems unlikely), Google would’ve removed it on request.
Specialist Police Unit Report
What’s interesting here is that LaLiga’s statement quite clearly points to UDEV (Unidad de Delincuencia Especializada y Violenta), a specialist unit of Spain’s National Police (Policía Nacional), as the entity responsible for verifying that infringement was actually taking place.
So, in summary, LaLiga demanded precautionary measures against the software, UDEV determined infringement and issued a report to that effect, and the public prosecutor’s satisfaction with the application and evidence meant that the court – Juzgado de Instrucción Nº 53 de Madrid – found that ‘precautionary measures’ were appropriate.
IPTV Smarters Pro Still on Google Play
At the time of writing, IPTV Smarters Pro is still available on Google Play in Spain. The removal order was issued on December 22, but disruption at this time of the year is common and the deadline for compliance is unknown.
Also of interest is the timing of LaLiga’s submission to the European Commission calling out IPTV Smarters Pro for infringing its rights (February 2022), and when the football league decided to file infringement notices with Google targeting the Smarters website.
A second DMCA notice reveals that LaLiga demanded the search engine delisting of the official IPTV Smarters Pro Google Play page on December 12, 2022. The same notice went on to demand the delisting of more than 140 URLs on IPTVSmarters.com.
“The denounced website sells channel services or subscriptions to servers that provide unauthorized payment channel decryption keys. They are copyrighted broadcasts that are available through the IPTV/CCCAM service,” LaLiga’s DMCA notice reads.
The ‘How it Works‘ page on IPTVSmarters states “We don’t provide or Sell any Subscriptions, Stream and Content. We are a Software Development Company.”
Unlike the allegations in the MPA and EC reports, these allegations are extremely specific, right down to the URL. Among those 140+ URLs are some that offer the Smarters app for direct download (without needing Google Play), forum discussions on how to pay for the app without involving Google, and dozens of pages relating to user accounts.
Somewhat ironically, the DMCA notice also demanded the removal of Smarters’ dedicated copyright page which explains how to complain about copyright infringement and have infringing content removed. On the same page, Smarters says it will “suspend or terminate the accounts of user(s) found to infringe copyrights of others.”