Sport, broadcasting and culture sectors today (19/10/2022) were offered a limited step forward in their attempts to tackle piracy of valuable footage from live events.
The European Commission announced that it will propose a ‘recommendation’ in its next policy programme on how rights owners of footage could act. The EU plan is for a non-binding text instead of a tool for new European-wide legislation which sports organisations in particular have been seeking for many years. The News Media Coalition has stated its concern about the evil of criminal gangs behind industrial scale theft of creative content and but has urged public policymakers to be mindful of the needs of newsrooms when legitimately using video content including event footage and video-journalist material to illustrate news stories within digital news publications.
Indeed, the need for a balanced approach was recognised by the European Parliament when it produced a Resolution (full text here) on the topic of ‘Challenges of sports events organisers in the digital environment’. It stated:
whereas such illegal transmissions are also to be distinguished from content legally shared under limitations and exceptions provided for in copyright law, or content shared by journalists for the purpose of informing the general public, as set out in the Audiovisual Media Services Directive; whereas the measures aimed at protecting broadcast rights against illegal use and piracy must not affect press freedom or the news media’s ability to inform citizens;
whereas certain major sports events are of general public interest and access to real-time information about them should therefore be guaranteed for all citizens and not be subject to undue or illegal restrictions; whereas this also concerns the journalists and news reporters who may provide such real-time information; whereas Member States should support the broadcasting of major sports events free-to-air, as a form of popular culture that plays an important part in the lives of citizens;
Against that background the European Parliament had been urging the Commission since last year to introduce a law to force hosting services to take down illegal sports streams immediately, or else no longer than 30 minutes after they were notified of the infraction. Broadcasters and the sporting and entertainment industries had ramped up their calls for a law in the past few weeks, arguing that online theft cost an estimated €28 billion in revenue.
The formal response in the form a promised Recommendation will come in the second quarter of 2023 as part of the Commission’s Work Programme, which was published yesterday.
The absence of a legally binding ‘surgical’ take down toolbox is a source of frustration to the campaign for a legislative instrument led by organisations such as the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, whose chairman Mark Lichtenhein has described illegal streaming as amounting to a €28 billion in loss of revenues and an “existential threat.”
SROC is part of the Live Content Coalition, which set out its disappointment in a statement which said: “Despite a clear and unambiguous call from 112 organisations from across the full breadth of the EU’s cultural, creative and sports sectors, and from 107 Members of the European Parliament, the Commission has not included a legislative initiative to tackle live content piracy in its Work Programme for 2023.
As the Live Content Coalition, representing the organisers and distributors of live events across Europe, we welcome the reference to our concerns, but we are disappointed that those legitimate concerns are addressed through an inadequate non-legally binding recommendation. We strongly believe this will not create the necessary legal incentive for online intermediaries to respond immediately when illegal live content is notified.
Following one of the most challenging periods in the live events sectors’ history, with the COVID-19 pandemic depleting advertising revenues whilst shuttering stadia, arenas, theatres and concert halls across the continent, we need firm and decisive measures to protect the value of live content. This is imperative for our collective recovery and for the continuing investment that our sectors make in promoting, developing and encouraging the next generation of European performers and sportspeople.”