High Court backs tougher measures for blocking Premier League pirates

The court heard that while there had been considerable success in disrupting the pirates, a more dynamic order was required because of quickly changing technology
High Court backs tougher measures for blocking Premier League pirates

The High Court has approved measures to block the illegal streaming of Premier League matches. Pictured is Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson, centre, celebrating after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at the Hawthorns stadium in West Bromwich, England, on Sunday, May 16. Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Pool via AP

The High Court has approved new measures by the English Football Association to step up its efforts to block pirates who illegally stream Premier League matches in Ireland.

The FA Premier League (FAPL) company obtained its first blocking order here in July 2019 in an effort to combat illegal streaming, which the court heard previously had become ubiquitous in the UK. Similar blocking orders have been obtained in the UK.

The order for Ireland was renewed last year for this season and on Tuesday Mr Justice David Barniville granted a renewed order for the coming season.

Expanded provisions

The judge said these were expanded provisions to prevent continuing efforts by illegal streaming servers to circumvent previous orders.

The court heard that while there had been considerable success in disrupting the illegal servers who were pirating legitimate streaming services, a more dynamic order was required because of the fast-moving way in which technology can be used to circumvent orders.

The FAPL brought the application against internet service providers Eircom/Eir, Sky Ireland, Sky Subscriber Services, Virgin Media Ireland and Vodafone Ireland. All were either supportive or neutral over the application, the court heard.

Mr Justice Barniville said the defendants are commonly called "mere conduits" and had taken an extremely responsible attitude towards the application as they had previously.

Significant changes requested

There were some significant changes requested to the blocking orders put in place for the previous two seasons, he said. He was satisfied the need for them had been fully addressed in evidence to the court on behalf of the FAPL.

The thrust of that evidence was that any court order should be dynamic and capable of adapting to technological changes during the currency of any such order, which lasts for a year, he said.

The critical issue was to ensure effectiveness but if it was being circumvented by those operating illegal streaming services then it is ineffective, he said.

He was satisfied the changes sought by the FAPL were necessary to continue the effectiveness of the order and to provide the dynamism necessary to prevent circumvention.

Safeguards to prevent over-blocking

He was also satisfied that there were safeguards to prevent over-blocking, which can mean that legitimate streaming services are affected.

He was satisfied there were comprehensive measures to provide for an emergency brake where the legitimate service providers can temporarily cease blocking if they take the view that such a suspension is reasonably necessary.

Earlier, Jonathan Newman SC, for the FAPL, said without the changes his client would be stuck with a static order when there was a need for a dynamic response. Technical ways of preventing circumvention of the order by pirates was identified in confidential exhibits provided to the court.

Under previous orders, a very large number of illegal streams had been blocked, he said. There had been an increase in Sky's audience by people seeking lawful streaming.

Surveys for the FAPL had found that only 5% of people who use the illegal streams said they had not experienced any disruption caused by previous blocking orders, he said. The vast majority had experienced disruption and unreliability within a few minutes of the pirates being blocked, he said.

In one survey, some 78% said they had stopped watching because of the disruption.

Counsel said there was simply no other way or methodology of tackling this problem.

The order seeks in particular to tackle the use of set-top boxes which directly pick up from a server, he said.

Under previous orders, content provided by the illegitimate servers using streams from legal broadcast outlets are targeted in real time for disabling, using the latest advances in technology.

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