Dozens of headlines have claimed consequences ranging from system-destroying malware to prison sentences. Fortunately, most of them can be filed under “tabloid nonsense.”
That being said, there is an extremely important issue that deserves much closer attention, particularly given a shift in the UK legal climate during 2017. We’re talking about live streaming copyrighted content on Facebook, which is both incredibly easy and frighteningly risky.
This week it was revealed that 34-year-old Craig Foster from the UK had been given an ultimatum from Sky to pay a £5,000 settlement fee. The media giant discovered that he’d live-streamed the Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko fight on Facebook and wanted compensation to make a potential court case disappear.
While it may seem initially odd to use the word, Foster was lucky.
Under last year’s Digital Economy Act, he could’ve been jailed for up to ten years for distributing copyright-infringing content to the public, if he had “reason to believe that communicating the work to the public [would] cause loss to the owner of the copyright, or [would] expose the owner of the copyright to a risk of loss.”
Clearly, as a purchaser of the £19.95 pay-per-view himself, he would’ve appreciated that the event costs money. With that in mind, a court would likely find that he would have been aware that Sky would have been exposed to a “risk of loss”. Sky claim that 4,250 people watched the stream but the way the law is written, no specific level of loss is required for a breach of the law.
But it’s not just the threat of a jail sentence that’s the problem. People streaming live sports on Facebook are sitting ducks.
In Foster’s case, the fight he streamed was watermarked, which means that Sky put a tracking code into it which identified him personally as the buyer of the event. When he (or his friend, as Foster claims) streamed it on Facebook, it was trivial for Sky to capture the watermark and track it back to his Sky account.
Equally, it would be simplicity itself to see that the name on the Sky account had exactly the same name and details as Foster’s Facebook account. So, to most observers, it would appear that not only had Foster purchased the event, but he was also streaming it to Facebook illegally.
It’s important to keep something else in mind. No cooperation between Sky and Facebook would’ve been necessary to obtain Foster’s details. Take the amount of information most people share on Facebook, combine that with the information Sky already had, and the company’s anti-piracy team would have had a very easy job.
Now compare this situation with an upload of the same stream to a torrent site.
While the video capture would still contain Foster’s watermark, which would indicate the source, to prove he also distributed the video Sky would’ve needed to get inside a torrent swarm. From there they would need to capture the IP address of the initial seeder and take the case to court, to force an ISP to hand over that person’s details.
Presuming they were the same person, Sky would have a case, with a broadly similar level of evidence to that presented in the current matter. However, it would’ve taken them months to get their man and cost large sums of money to get there. It’s very unlikely that £5,000 would cover the costs, meaning a much, much bigger bill for the culprit.
Or, confident that Foster was behind the leak based on the watermark alone, Sky could’ve gone straight to the police. That never ends well.
The bottom line is that while live-streaming on Facebook is simplicity itself, people who do it casually from their own account (especially with watermarked content) are asking for trouble.
Nailing Foster was the piracy equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel but the worrying part is that he probably never gave his (or his friend’s…) alleged infringement a second thought. With a click or two, the fight was live and he was staring down the barrel of a potential jail sentence, had Sky not gone the civil route.
It’s scary stuff and not enough is being done to warn people of the consequences. Forget the scare stories attempting to deter people from watching fights or movies on Kodi, thoughtlessly streaming them to the public on social media is the real danger.