If you’re fortunate enough to have basic cable, you can spend this Sunday in your favorite chair watching the Packers face the Steelers in a storied matchup culminating what was anything but a typical NFL season. Next door, your neighbor and his buddies will fight over seats on the sectional around his big screen. Down the street, jersey-toting, die-hard fans will raise Tyrannosaurus glasses in glory or defeat at the local sports bar. But this year, there will be a new face (make that faces) at your neighbor’s party and the sports bar. Why? Because they don’t have cable. And yesterday, the Department of Justice and Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) most likely took down the website where they were planning to watch the Big Game, illegally.
Sports-streaming websites atdhe.net, firstrow.net, channelsurfing.net, and rojadirecta.org, just to name a few, were seized February 1st, and have public officials like Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) questioning the operation, specifically with regards to Spanish site rojadirecta.org. Head to any of the sites and you will see the following warning reflecting current U.S. law:
“Willful copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution.” 17 U.S.C. § 506, 18 U.S.C. § 2319.
It should come as no surprise that these sites were shut down just before the Big Kahuna Sunday when the musical chairs match between Pirate Petey and Illegal Download Danny might just rival the action onscreen. After all, the Big Game is the most watched television broadcast in America. Indeed, this year’s sponsors have paid $330 million to the NFL for ad time. What does it take to be an “official” sponsor? Anheuser-Busch has reportedly paid $1.2 billion over the next six years to be the NFL’s “official” beer. The perks? During this time it will be the only sponsor that can use the official NFL imagery and trademarks.
As you can imagine, the bottom line for the NFL can be adversely affected by sites streaming live sports online for free, especially the Championship. It’s in the best interest of the NFL and its sponsors to have “authentic” viewers to keep count of the total. Much like when a TV sitcom is recorded then later watched on Tivo for instance, someone who watches a game online illegally might not count toward the overall viewership. This has been a huge problem for television. Selling advertising without a precise viewer estimate is a tall order. Consider online shopping for comparison.
On November 30, 2010, ICE shut down 82 sites suspect of selling knockoff goods. This came just two days after Black Friday on what is known as Cyber Monday–the busiest online shopping day of the year. (Even I bought something.) Despite all the similarities, the online shopping sites are different in that the sale of counterfeit products (e.g., fake purses, fake shoes) steals the creative work of others. Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed, “Intellectual property crimes are not victimless[.]”
That may be the case here, but more controversy surrounding the seizure of these sites will probably surface, especially with regards to rojadirecta.org, which was twice declared legal by Spanish courts (here and here). The court reasoned that since the site does not host any material itself, it does not infringe. The good people of Spain might not be too happy about this. Nevertheless it is highly unlikely that the site will be back up by game time. The forecast for Sunday, Sunday, Sunday?
Crowded. Plan accordingly.