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Broadcasters and sporting and entertainment associations are demanding that Brussels crack down on widespread piracy of live events.
In a letter obtained exclusively by POLITICO, 108 organizations urged the European Commission to propose a law to enable the immediate blocking and removal of illegal livestreams. Among the signatories are UEFA (European football’s governing body), rugby’s Six Nations Championship and tennis’ French Open, as well as broadcasters beIN Sports and Sky and national associations for live performers.
“Piracy has [drained] and continues to drain Europe’s creative and cultural ecosystems, sports and live performance sectors depriving workers and industries [of] billions in annual revenues,” wrote the dozens of companies and lobbies.
Broadcasters and sports events organizers lose up to €28 billion in revenues to piracy each year, according to a 2021 analysis.
Their call comes amid fears that the cost-of-living crisis could drive more piracy as consumers struggle to afford their TV and platform subscriptions. The window for new EU-level laws under the current European Commission is also closing, with elections around the corner in 2024.
Grégoire Polad, director general of the broadcasters lobby Association of Commercial Television and Video on Demand Services in Europe, said the Commission’s political credibility was on the line.
“The Commission has said repeatedly that what is illegal offline should be illegal online,” he said. “This is an opportunity to prove they are serious about this and in so doing ensure billions of euros are reinvested into the economy rather than filling the pockets of criminals.”
While the EU recently finalized a new set of rules, known as the Digital Services Act, to stem the spread of illegal content, including pirated videos, broadcasters and sports federations say they aren’t stringent enough to make a difference for their sector.
The European Parliament, meanwhile, called on the Commission last year to come forward with a more specific law to force hosting services to take down illegal streams immediately, or else no longer than 30 minutes after they are notified of the infraction.
Broadcasters and sports federations send out “millions” of notices to internet service providers and hosting services every year, but digital companies often react too slowly or, in the worst-case scenario, ignore messages, explained Mark Lichtenhein, chairman of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, a group of sports federations.
“Over 90 percent, maybe even 99 percent, of the value of sport is in that live window, so unless we can act against piracy during the event, the value is lost,” he said.
Lichtenhein described online piracy as an “existential threat” to his industry.
“Who’s going to keep investing in better production, better content if it’s just being stolen by pirates without any consequences?” he said.
Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told lawmakers in June that measures to crack down on pirated sports live streams will be presented “shortly” but the industry fears that the EU executive will come up with voluntary guidelines without any teeth.
The European Commission is scheduled to present its plan for new laws on October 18.