On 28 October, MEP Tomasz Frankowski (EPP), together with his parliamentarian colleagues Angel Dzhambazki (ECR), Irena Joveva (Renew Europe) and Hannes Heide (S&D) hosted an online meeting to discuss the upcoming report “Challenges of sport events’ organisers in the digital environment”.
While MEP Dzhambazki is rapporteur of the JURI Committee, which is in charge of the report, MEP Frankowski is the rapporteur of the CULT Committee that is giving its opinion. MEPs Joveva and Heide are both shadow rapporteurs in CULT.
In his welcome note MEP Frankowski stressed that piracy of live sport events is threatening the sustainable development of the sport sector. Then, MEP Dzhambazki provided some introduction remarks highlighting the live factor that makes sport unique and needs special protection. Therefore, he asked for illegal streams to be removed in a timely manner.
The keynote speech was given by Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner in charge of sport. Gabriel pointed out that for many sport federations broadcasting rights are the major source of income. In this regard, piracy puts pressure on the sport system. She went on to stress that sport events differ from media content like movies and series in both its live factor and also its unpredictability of outcome. Therefore, Gabriel deemed the topic very important, concluding that the fight against online piracy does not get the attention it deserves.
The subsequent debate was moderated by Per Strömbäck of the Forum for the Digital Society Netopia, and included the following speakers:
Overall, the issue was approached from different angles, e.g. from the perspective of consumers, the press, sports federations, broadcasters and law enforcement agencies. All things considered, panellists showed large consensus over the fact that online piracy of sport events must be fought both more efficiently and in a more timely manner.
Bogdan Cîinaru from Europol explained how criminal groups take sport right holders for a ride by capturing the legal broadcasting signal and duplicating it illegally. Doing so, they run their business and generate money from subscription services illegally offered to consumers as well as by selling faulty hardware and/or advertisement. According to Cîinaru, these groups often operate from outside the EU, are not registered as companies and therefore do not pay taxes. For a consumer it is not always easy to know whether an offer is illegal, as many products can look quite professional. However, apart from being pirated, these illegal services can also pose a major threat for consumers as they can carry malware and viruses.
Erlinda Tabla from Eurosport pointed out the need to take down illegal streams in less than 30 min after detection. Otherwise, criminals would be able to set up a new illegal online stream of the very same event to follow up, which would make efforts in vain, according to her.
Seong Sin Han from UEFA joined her demand stating that “live sports need a live remedy”. He went on to clarify that piracy is a mass problem driven by criminal activity organised in business-like structures, and not at all by fans or media sharing event related content. During the European Championship 2016 around 160.000 illegal streams were detected by UEFA, which is why sport federations need to invest substantial resources to fight piracy.
Mark Lichtenhein from the Sports Rights Owners Coalition made clear that there is no ambiguity or legal uncertainty about telling a legal stream from an illegal one as this can be identified in a failproof way via watermarks and fingerprints. Hence, he called for a real time take down tool that needs to be implemented on the side of the service provider platforms. Andrew Moger from News Media Coalition also agreed that piracy is an evil that needs to be addressed, but stressed that any action should not impact the work of the media.
Krisztina Stump from the European Commission welcomed the upcoming report of the European Parliament. Moreover, she hinted that parts of the currently negotiated Digital Services Act may be relevant for sport rights owners as well. Apart from technicalities she also highlighted the social value of sports: “The game can unify Europe like neither politics nor any other things can do.”
Finally, MEP Hannes Heide (S&D) concluded the interesting discussions. Summing up the problems of cybercrime, the value of the live factor, the risks for consumers and the growth of the black market, it became obvious for him, that there is a clear need for action.
Prior to the online discussion, both Committees of the European Parliament involved in the report have already held their first exchanges of views: CULT on 22 September, and JURI on 1 October. While the draft opinion from CULT is already published and MEPs are able to table amendments until 30 October, the JURI Committee’s report is supposed to be published within the next weeks.
EOC EU Office is closely following the discussions and working together with the SROC on the topic.