Pioneered by the Premier League and its anti-piracy partners, pirate IPTV injunctions now provide authority for sophisticated flexible blocking, edging ever closer to the Holy Grail of real-time stream disruption.
Top-tier football leagues LaLiga and Serie A share this goal but to compel ISPs to block pirate services in any way, an initial court process is a requirement in EU countries. This includes Malta where the leagues (in one case through a local rightsholder) asked the court to authorize stream disruption.
Application filed by LaLiga
A 2017 report from Malta’s Broadcasting Authority revealed that one in five households were using pirate IPTV services to access illegal streams. Three years later, Malta became entangled in ‘Operation Perfect Storm‘, a pan-European IPTV anti-piracy operation coordinated by Eurojust.
After blocking injunctions arrived in Malta courtesy of sports organizations, this February an agent for LaLiga filed a new application citing the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (Regulation) Act (pdf).
Under Article 8, rightholders can ask a court to order measures to “prevent any imminent infringement.” These measures include injunctions against intermediaries whose services are used by third parties to infringe intellectual property rights. LaLiga named three local ISPs – Epic Communications Limited, Melita Limited, GO Plc – as respondents with the power to prevent further infringement.
While absent from public records, LaLiga presented a January 2022 report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers which identified IP addresses streaming LaLiga content to Maltese internet users, without the appropriate rights. LaLiga informed the First Hall of the Civil Court that while the residential ISPs themselves aren’t acting illegally, their provision of internet access allows subscribers to gain access to infringing streams.
As a result, LaLiga sought an order that would compel the ISPs to render the illegal streams inaccessible to subscribers, while rendering the ISPs liable for costs.
Application filed by Infront Sports & Media AG
A second application was filed at the First Hall of the Civil Court in April. Presented by Infront Sports & Media AG, a Switzerland-based company that holds rights to Serie A matches, the application followed a similar format to LaLiga’s and also cited a PriceWaterhouseCoopers infringement report.
Infront asked the court to issue an injunction compelling the same ISPs to block the pirate services under Article 8 of the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (Regulation) Act, noting that the ISPs should be required to pay costs to cover the legal proceedings.
Football Leagues Win Dynamic Injunctions
Decisions handed down late June by Judge Ian Spiteri Bailey indicate that negotiations took place between the rightsholders and ISPs after the applications were filed earlier this year. Since then, some type of agreement had been reached.
In a joint submission both parties acknowledged that the court would have to publish its decisions but specifically requested that the agreements (and in particular their ‘operating methodology’) should remain confidential.
Such secrecy is commonly found around piracy blocking cases so it comes as no surprise to see the same here. However, in both the LaLiga and Serie A cases the Judge decided that the private agreements reached between the parties should be considered parts of the relevant judgment, leaving a lot of gaps to speculate over.
In broad terms, the Judge agreed that all of the undisclosed IP addresses in the undisclosed documents should be blocked under the terms of the undisclosed agreements, to protect LaLiga and Serie A matches in the 2022/23 season.
The ISPs must also block access to undisclosed IP addresses that fall under Clause 5 of the undisclosed agreement, any time before the 2022/23 season, as long as they are notified of them not less than 96 hours before a match. There are other terms too but none that make much sense without seeing all of the undisclosed documentation.
In summary, however, the injunctions appear to be dynamic, meaning that they can be modified to include new IP addresses in the event that pirate IPTV services take countermeasures.