A French court has ordered five defendants to pay €7 million in damages to French broadcasters beIN Sports, Canal+ and RMC Sport, following the defendants’ convictions for operating illegal sports streaming websites targeting the broadcasters.
The multi-million Euro damages award is one of the largest financial rulings issued by a French court following a piracy conviction, and has been widely welcomed by the industry as an emphatic sign that piracy will be prosecuted and sanctioned heavily by the courts. The convictions were obtained thanks to years of investigative work by the police and a specialised court in Rennes, supported by beIN and the other broadcasters’ legal and anti-piracy teams.
The five defendants, who operated the illegal sports streaming websites from 2014 to 2018, were aged between 43 and 57 years old and targeted beIN, Canal+ and RMC Sport for their breadth of premium content – including piracy of the UEFA Champions League, Ligue 1, Ligue 2, English Premier League and other European leagues. The broadcasters pay millions of Euros every year to leagues and federations for the rights to broadcast these matches, which funds and underpins the entire sports ecosystem in France – from the professional leagues to grassroots sport. This investment in sport is increasingly under threat in France due to rising piracy levels – particularly during the pandemic.
The Rennes Criminal Court awarded beIN Sports France €3.8 million in damages for economic loss and €200,000 for the moral prejudice.
“This judgment sends a vital message across France that courts will have zero tolerance for piracy or its perpetrators,” declared Yousef Al-Obaidly, CEO of beIN Media Group and President of beIN Sports France. “beIN has been leading the industry in the anti-piracy fight both in France and globally – we have warned against the worsening pandemic of piracy for years. The reason for this is simple – the value of media rights and, in turn, investment in sport in France will continue to fall unless the industry wakes up and takes action to protect intellectual property.”
The case before the Rennes Criminal Court found that the “galaxy of sites” operated by the convicted men attracted more than 7.5 million unique visitors alone from 2014 to 2017. According to beIN SPORTS, the “exceptional” decision must not obscure the fact that pirates can still anonymously operate illegal streaming websites and IPTV apps in France and around the world, and that it’s too difficult to take legal action against them.
Alongside legal action against the pirates, beIN SPORTS called for (1) fast, sharp and efficient enforcement measures to be taken by online intermediary services providers – at the EU and national level – to tackle online piracy of sporting events, as well as (2) due diligence checks on the identity of their clients.
According to beIN, research shows that the issue of piracy is widespread in French society and not just amongst the young, with nearly one in five Internet users over the age of 15 accessing illegal streams of sport.
beIN Media Group has fought illegal pirates across the world, most famously with the notorious beoutQ case in Saudi Arabia which resulted in the emphatic condemnation of the operation by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in June 2020, as well as criticism from global governments and sports federations.
In France specifically, to protect the industry and investment in sport, beIN Sports created the APPS association in 2018, which aims to fight against all forms of sports content piracy. The organisation – which includes broadcasters, rights holders, and sport federations amongst its members – has also been calling for urgent legislative countermeasures in France to stop the pandemic of piracy.