Last week England's Football Association unleashed its latest weapon in the fight against infringement of its rights in Premier League football games.
Those looking to avoid paying subscriptions for sports content, or unable to access the content in their jurisdiction, previously downloaded recordings available on torrent sites. That the recordings went up at some stage after the match, and stayed accessible for a while, allowed rights-holders time to try to deal with the infringement. Rights-holders could issue "take-down" notices to websites that hosted the content or, under UK law, apply to the Court for an order that ISPs block their customers' access to the websites (by reference to the IP address for the site).
Now, those same users can access live streams of the events. This means copyright owners only have the length of a sporting event to detect and try to take down or prevent access to the infringing live stream. An almost impossible task.
Infringers use their (often legitimate) access to the live broadcast of an event and relay that content to thousands of other users via a streaming server. The content is accessed by end-users via set-top boxes (loaded with software like Kodi), media players (like Fire TV Stick) and mobile apps.
So the FA applied to the High Court of England and Wales for orders that a list of IP addresses that identified streaming servers would be blocked by the ISPs when a Premier League match was being broadcast. The FA showed that it wasn't over-reaching by blocking access to the servers: it could identify the servers accurately in real-time and the ISPs could block and un-block the IP addresses as needed (i.e. allow access again once a match had ended). The Court granted the order, the first time this type of order has been granted in the UK.
Tackling online infringement has always been a one step forward, three steps back kind of affair. Infringers have the advantages of operating outside the rights-holders' jurisdiction, masking their identity and abandoning comprised IP addresses when detected. So although these blocking orders do place a burden on ISPs, they are far more effective than trying to identify and stop individual infringers at the source. They will still stream - but nobody in the UK using one of the named ISPs will be able to access it. Which is really what the rights-holders care about - they of course want people to pay the subscription instead.
The FA was supported by other rights-holders like the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Spanish football league and PGA Europe showing that organisers and rights-holders for major sporting events have to become super tech-savvy so that they can keep pace with change - and look to the courts for innovative solutions to protect themselves against the ongoing dilution of their rights.