How the EPL tackles piracy and stops people going around the wall

The legal counsel for the English Premier League says the ultimate goal of eliminating pirated content is designed to protect its fans.

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Image: Ben Stansall/Getty Images

When a majority of the English Premier League's income comes from exclusive broadcast deals, it makes sense why the football organisation is committed to cracking down on piracy globally.

Speaking to ZDNet, Premier League chief legal counsel Kevin Plumb said that while anti-piracy work has been on the company's agenda for a long time, making it a priority started with former executive chairman Richard Scudamore, "who really prioritised it alongside broadcast sales because he saw it as two sides of the same coin".

"We know it's a problem in every territory -- not just for sports or the Premier League, it's for movies, it's TV shows … and that's one of the reasons why we opened an office in [Singapore three years ago]. We are pretty loud and proud about our anti-piracy work," Plumb said.

"Back in the day, it used to be a 'non-secret' and something we did in the background … but now we're right at the cutting edge of anti-piracy work and we want to show our broadcasters and our fans that as well."

In fact, Plumb reckons all the anti-piracy work is having a significant impact, pointing out that the company's revenue for international broadcasting deals will be up by 30% for 2022-25. Based on reports earlier this year by The Times, international deals will be worth £5.3 billion, while domestic rights will bring £5.1 billion, and commercial contracts taking the total to £10.5 billion. 

While there are plenty of reasons for the revenue bump up, Plumb believes the company's anti-piracy work is a contributing factor.

"We can comfortably say our anti-piracy work will be one of those factors because if we weren't so committed, if we weren't having the impact that I think we are having -- and particularly in this part of the world -- I think we've managed to be quite influential, working with other rights owner as well," he said.

"It's kind of turning the ship around and sort of getting the momentum back in favour of the rights owner. I think if we just sort of left the situation alone, I'm not sure if we would be in a position where we we're as happy with the rights sales we have."

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According to Plumb, the company's anti-piracy program is shaped by four pillars: Legal action, blocking, lobbying, and education and awareness.

He detailed that blocking, for instance, is a method designed to minimise the supply of pirated content. It involves working with vendors to help remove pirate content form search results to make it harder for casual users to locate, as well as tracking down ads on pirate sites to "starve the revenue stream".

"What we look at is the whole journey from logging onto the computer or turning the smart TV to access a pirate stream, and we try to disrupt every part of that journey to make it as difficult as possible for someone to access the stream," Plumb said.

"We try to put as many hurdles up as possible because we find that if you put up one hurdle that dissuades 100 people from carrying on that journey. If you put two that's 500 people."

Premier League has also been working with local law enforcement globally to ensure that legal action can be taken out against those who are supplying pirate services. For instance, in Singapore and Malaysia, the company secured legal precedent that the sale of Kodi media boxes and the use of them to access pirate content is a criminal offence.

"In Singapore three years ago when we when we first came out here, it was really easy to buy these [Kodi] devices in the shops. That process was a pleasant purchasing experience -- you bought it from a nice shop, there'll be a nice salesperson to show you a nice box with nice branding, and it's all boxed beautifully," Plumb said.

"So, a lot of our emphasis has been trying to stop those shops from selling them and getting them off the streets … that's why we've established that it's a criminal act now to sell those boxes.

"We now routinely sweep those shops, and we'll do undercover purchases and then we follow it up with legal letters. We've reduced the number of those shops by 80% in the last few years."

Meanwhile, in Thailand, Plumb said the Premier League works closely with the Department of Special Investigation to ensure criminals raids are carried out or that local law enforcement turns up at the doorsteps of pirates for a "knock and talk".

But not all country's legislation is up to scratch when it comes to piracy, conceded Plumb.

"We do lots of lobbying work because … we always want legislation to be clear and we'd always want legislation to move with the technology because that is one of the challenges. You have pirates who are really quick, and you've got law and legal process which can be deafly slow. How you fit those two bits together is one of our biggest challenges," he said.

Plumb also acknowledged that even though the sale of Kodi media devices may be slowly disappearing from physical store fronts, pirates are likely to sell them through other channels.

"What we now expect is that those shops move online, therefore we have to be ready for that -- we are sweeping auction sites and Lazada. We've removed a few thousand listings from Lazada in the last year," he said.

"And then where do they move then? They move to their own websites, maybe they set up a Facebook profile, so we sweep Facebook and we take them down from Facebook. We always have to be aware of their next step and that does mean we'll be doing this for a long time."

At the end of the day though, all the anti-piracy work is designed to protect the fans, Plumb said.  

"In this part of the world where people are getting up at silly o'clock in the morning to watch their teams play -- teams they may have never seen in person -- but who they are absolutely fervent fans of … so it's really important that we protect those people."

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