Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have set out proposals to crack down on the growing phenomenon of illegal broadcasting of live sporting events. To help combat the problem, MEPs call on the Commission to clarify and improve the current EU framework on intellectual property rights for live sport events, currently not subject to copyright protection, and to introduce specific provisions regarding the rights of sport event organisers, for whom licensing of broadcasting rights are a key source of income. Some member states, however, have introduced specific legal protection from which organisers can benefit.
According to MEPs, existing rules need to be adapted to address the specific short-term value of live sport events and concrete measures should be introduced to ensure the immediate removal of illegal content, under effective safeguards. Given that illegal streams are most harmful in the first thirty minutes of their appearance online, the text calls for such streams to be removed or disabled immediately and no later than thirty minutes following a notification by rights holders or a certified ‘trusted flagger’.
MEPs reiterate the importance of hosting platforms acting swiftly to remove content and call for an EU system establishing common criteria for certified ‘trusted flaggers’ to be introduced, as well as further harmonisation of procedures and remedies in the future Digital Services Act and in other sector-specific proposals.
Injunction procedures to remove illegal sporting events must avoid arbitrary or excessive blocking of legal content, insist MEPs. Enforcement measures should be proportionate and include access to judicial remedies, in particular for small businesses, SMEs and start-ups.
Legal offers on sport content should also be promoted more effectively in the EU and made easier for consumers to find online. The liability for illegal broadcasts should lie with the providers of sport streams, and not with the fans or consumers, clarify MEPs.
The report was adopted with 479 votes in favour, 171 against and 40 abstentions.
“The piracy of live sport events is a major challenge for sport event organisers,” stated Legal Affairs committee rapporteur Angel Dzhambazki (European Conservatives and Reformists, Bulgaria). “The problem with existing measures is that enforcement comes too late. The report calls on the Commission to clarify and adapt existing legislation, including the possibility of issuing injunctions requesting the real-time blocking of access to or removal of unauthorised online content.”
In the context of the 2019 copyright directive, the Commission has stated it is assessing the challenges faced by sport event organisers in the digital environment, in particular issues related to the illegal online transmissions of sport broadcasts and has committed to follow up on Parliament’s proposals to address these challenges. The proposal on the Digital Services Act, currently being scrutinised by Parliament, presents broad measures to counter illegal content online, but does not address the challenges faced by specific sectors.
The Association of Commercial Television in Europe (ACT) has welcomed the report, suggesting it represents a powerful signal given by the European Parliament. “It recognises the magnitude of the problem of online piracy of live sports broadcasts and the immense prejudice piracy brings not only to sports events organisers and broadcasters, but also to the European economy at large. It also recognises the important role that broadcast of such events play for solidarity, diversity and social inclusion in the European Union,” says the ACT.
According to the ACT, the report contains balanced safeguards to protect fundamental rights, whilst taking a strong stance against the dissemination of illegal content. “We welcome actions in areas such as the need for immediate take-down (no later than 30 minutes) of illicit live sports broadcasts. It helpfully calls for much more effective enforcement of rights, the increasing need of cross-border enforcement, the need for effective notice and action mechanisms, blocking injunctions, and an efficient trusted flagger system,” it states.
“We therefore encourage the European Commission to take stock of the demands of the European Parliament and to act upon their commitment following the adoption of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive (EU) 2019/790) to provide sports events organisers and broadcasters with sufficiently robust instruments to fight against the illegal streaming of our content. We urge all the institutions to adopt a strong Digital Services Act that will incorporate these principles, and also believe in a targeted instrument to tackle this particular issue. Piracy continues to grow and undermine the value of European live content at an alarming rate, having harmful knock-on effects across Europe,” it concludes.