In the aftermath of its exclusive pay-per view coverage of a top boxing bout being illegally streamed on social media platforms, Peter Tonagh, CEO of Australian pay-TV operator Foxtel, has delivered a strong condemnation of content piracy. He also confirmed that in this instance, with the co-operation of the alleged infringers, Foxtel would not be launching legal proceedings, but use the episode to help educate the public instead.
Writing an opinion piece in the Herald Sun, Tonagh describes piracy as “a scourge”, suggesting it damages industries, puts live sports and events at risk and threatens thousands of jobs.
“It is no less of a crime than stealing a loaf of bread from a supermarket or sneaking into a movie theatre or a concert without paying. Yet, as a nation, Australians are among the worst offenders in the world,” he bemoans.
“At Foxtel, we have long focused on combating piracy. The first wave was the bloke at the pub selling pirated smart cards and set-top boxes. We worked hard to address that. The second wave was pirate sites such as The Pirate Bay and the bit torrent sites that encourage illegal sharing. We finally saw some progress with the recently passed site-blocking legislation having its first impact late last year,” he notes.
“But now we are dealing with a third, and potentially most concerning, wave: illegally streaming video on social media platforms. Rest assured we will work even harder to address this piracy before it gets out of control. The illegal streaming of the Mundine v Green fight nine days ago was a wake-up call. It was the first time that Foxtel had experienced piracy of a live event on a mass scale,” he advises.
According to Tonagh, there are a number of disturbing aspects to the illegal streaming of the fight. “The first is the basic moral question: why did the individuals involved think it was legitimate to do it in the first place and, just as bad, why did so many others, including politicians and media organisations, call them heroes,” he wonders.
“If someone had bought a ticket to the fight and forged multiple copies so their mates could get in, would they have been praised or called out for what they are,” he adds. “Illegally streaming copyright material is theft, regardless of whether you think it’s reasonably priced or not,” he avers.
“The second concern is the sheer short-sightedness of this attitude. Such events are hugely expensive to stage. The overwhelming majority of the charge goes to the boxers, to covering their fees, the cost of staging the event on the ground and the significant cost of a high-quality broadcast,” he advises.
“If people give the event away free, promoters have less money to cover their costs and are less likely to stage big fights in the future. For boxing fans, that logic should be obvious and very worrying. The same is true for other sports where broadcasting rights fees are the major source of funding to support everything from juniors in local clubs to elite-level competition and international tours,” he says.
“That is why at Foxtel we take illegal streaming of any copyright material seriously and we make no apology for taking a firm stance to enforce our rights. Since the fight, we have been working with Facebook to ensure the Facebook Live steaming feature is not used for illegal purposes at any future Foxtel events. Similarly, we continue to engage with other social media platforms. Of course, there are some salient lessons for us. We acknowledge that we must always try to make content available in a timely fashion, at accessible prices and on as many devices as possible. We have made huge advances on each of those aspects through no-contract offers and lower entry prices and will continue to invest in this area, including for our Main Event broadcasts and other pay-per-view content,” he confirms.
“In this case, we have made the decision not to launch legal proceedings against the two main offenders. They have agreed to publicly acknowledge that what they did was wrong and undertake not to do anything similar in future. This was the first time we have experienced such an incident at this scale and, even though they were both on notice that the broadcast was for private viewing only and not to be shared, we have decided that it is better to use this episode to help educate the public rather than punish individuals who have done the wrong thing,” he states.
“If we are to sustain our business, maintain great sport and continue to invest in other great Australian content, we must continue to educate the public on the consequences of piracy and be willing to enforce our legal rights. We remain fully prepared to do so in the future,” he concludes.
In a separate interview with The Australian, Tonagh revealed that Foxtel and Facebook have been developing a new tool designed to put a stop similar infringements.
“We are working on a new tool with Facebook that will allow us to upload a large stream of our events to Facebook headquarters where it can be tracked,” he said. “If that content is matched on users’ accounts where it’s being streamed without our authorisation then Facebook will alert us and pull it down. Our issue is that there were 22 live streams we identified of that fight. But we know of other cases in other markets where there were several thousand streams.”
“This is a major problem and so we are working with Facebook to put a stop to it. We are sure the tool will do what it says, but we are not confident of it working 100 per cent because in this game we have to increasingly play catch-up with the pirates,” he admitted.
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