The UFC, NBA and NFL are without a doubt among the most recognizable sports brands in the world.
Their events attract millions of viewers and are monetized through multi-billion dollar licensing deals and expensive PPV events.
Many sports fans are willing to pay to access these broadcasts but for some the costs involved are simply too steep. This has created a black market for pirated live streams which attract millions of users.
Slow and Ineffective DMCA Takedowns
Sports leagues and promotors are not happy with these unauthorized streams and are finding it difficult to get a grip on the problem. DMCA takedown notices are the main anti-piracy tool at their disposal but for live content they say this simply isn’t effective.
Last week, these concerns were shared with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in response to a consultation to discuss future anti-piracy and counterfeiting strategies.
In their letter, UFC, NBA, and NFL point out that, when it comes to live sports streaming, most of the value is concentrated on the live broadcast. When it takes several hours before an online service provider (OSP) responds to a DMCA notice, that’s practically useless as the live event has already ended by then.
“Unfortunately, UFC, NBAP and NFLP’s shared experience is that many OSPs frequently take hours or even days to remove content in response to takedown notices—thus allowing infringing live content to remain online during the most anticipated moments, or even the entirety, of a UFC event or an NBA or NFL game,” they write.
As a result of these inadequate policies, live-streaming piracy continues to flourish. For the global sports industry it’s a growing problem said to be responsible for billions of dollars in lost revenues.
When the DMCA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998, live streaming simply didn’t exist yet. However, the law did clarify that service providers should process takedown notices “expeditiously.”
In reality, however, the term expeditiously is not defined. According to some, responding within a few hours is sufficient, while other services believe that taking content down within a day is still quite reasonable.
These response times may still work for static content but not for live sports, UFC, NBA and NFL stress in their letter.
“It should be no surprise that the notice-and-takedown regime established by the DMCA, which was enacted before widespread internet-based livestreaming became available, is not well-suited to address the present-day particular piracy issues surrounding the infringement of live content.”
Instantaneous DMCA Takedowns
In recent years, live-streaming piracy hasn’t limited itself to dedicated pirate sites. Some use legitimate social media platforms to promote their content or abuse the live streaming capabilities of these services directly.
To tackle with this issue, the sports organizations would like to see Section 512 of the DMCA updated. Instead of taking down content ‘expeditiously,” online services should be required to respond near-instantaneously.
“[T]he requirement to ‘expeditiously’ remove infringing content means that content must be removed ‘instantaneously or near-instantaneously’ in response to a takedown request. This would be a relatively modest and non-controversial update to the DMCA that could be included in the broader reforms being considered by Congress or could be addressed separately.”
The sports organizations don’t define what “near-instantaneously” means, but this should be seconds or minutes, rather than hours.
In addition to swift takedowns, social media platforms should limit the live streaming capabilities to users that meet a certain verification threshold. This should exclude new users, or users with only a handful of followers, for example.
“Certain OSPs already impose measures like these, demonstrating that the measures are feasible, practical and important tools to reduce livestream piracy. Both of these reforms are needed,” UFC, NBA and NFL write.
This isn’t the first time that sports rightsholders have demanded action. In Europe, shorter takedown windows have been on the political agenda for years. While the European Commission hasn’t baked these into law, Italy recently adopted a 30-minute takedown window for live-streaming content.
Whether U.S. lawmakers will consider updating the DMCA has yet to be seen, but getting it on the political agenda is the first step.
A copy of the letter UFC, NBA and NFL sent to the United States Patent and Trademark Office is available here (pdf)