Serie A gets tough on piracy


Italian football league Serie A is taking action against audiovisual piracy of sports content (i.e. the illegal activity of pirate operator websites offering access, mainly through IPTVs, to audiovisual sports content obtained from a pay TV operator), having launched a campaign called “Piracy kills football” several months ago.

In mid-September 2019, the Special Unit for the Protection of Privacy and Technological Fraud of the Guardia di Finanza (the Italian law enforcement agency responsible for fighting financial crime, tax evasion and smuggling) gave a hard blow to the activities of illegal IPTVs. By way of an international operation involving eight European countries, the Guardia di Finanza seized and blocked the notorious “Xstream Codes” online platform, thus denying access to illegal sports-related content to over 700,000 online users. More than twenty people are being investigated.

The move came as part of an operation called “Free Football”, which is being carried out with the support of Serie A and some of its domestic licensees, including pay-TV broadcaster Sky Italia and sports streaming service DAZN.

In Italy, digital piracy is a crime, and the consequences of such actions can be harsh. Article 174-ter of Italian Law 633 of 1941 (the “Copyright Law”) regulates violation of copyright. It sets forth sanctions against those who obtain audiovisual content from illegal providers. The sanctions vary according to the gravity of the crime committed.

Making illegal downloads of copyrighted material for personal use would lead to a fine up to €1,032 and the seizure of the material used to commit the crime. The penalties are even higher if the content, once illegally downloaded, is then shared. In this case, based on Article 171-ter of the Copyright Law, it is no longer an administrative offense but a criminal one. If file sharing is carried out without profit, a fine up to €2,065 is provided under the Copyright Law.

The penalty increases, with fines starting from €516 and imprisonment up to one year, if a copyrighted work not intended for advertising is shared. Finally, those who illegally broadcast copyrighted audiovisual content for profit may face imprisonment from six months to three years and a fine ranging between €2,582 and €15,493.

As noted by Serie A through a statement following the above-mentioned international anti-piracy operation, in Italy alone, the financial loss resulting from such illegal activities is over one billion euros per year, with 6,000 jobs at risk.

Piracy of audiovisual content, especially content relating to sports, is not only a problem for Italy and Serie A.

FIFA, UEFA and the major football leagues are fighting a similar battle on multiple fronts around the globe. A report conducted by a San Francisco-based brand protection company and financed by FIFA, recently traced the signal of a large-scale piracy operation that has been carried out for more than two years to the detriment of Qatar-owned broadcaster BeIN Sports. Hundreds of football matches have been stolen by a Saudi-based rogue network known as “beoutQ” (allegedly through the assistance of Arabsat, a communications company based in Saudi Arabia).

Nevertheless, in spite of having sparked international scandal, the fight against audiovisual piracy has revealed the limits of current laws on global piracy in the media and telecommunication industry. In fact, in many instances such as the BeIN-beoutQ case, governments and football leaders have had little power and efficacy in defending the interests of the legitimate rights holders.

Withers’ growing global sports and IP teams are constantly monitoring the intersection between sports and media. With offices located in key jurisdictions worldwide, Withers regularly advises corporate clients, including sports leagues, football clubs, sports marketing agencies and other holders of sports-related media rights on a range of sports and commercial matters.

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