As COVID-19 related restrictions have started to ease, the return of spectators to major sporting events has been welcome by all. Pilot and test events have seen up to 20,000 at Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup Final in May, whilst the forthcoming European Championships will see even more fans in major grounds around Europe. However, demand for tickets still outstrips supply for domestic and international events, which is why most organisations have invested in technology that has allowed them to stream their games to a much wider audience.
Domestic cricket in the UK has been ravaged by COVID-19 with fans, in severely limited numbers being allowed to watch the game for the first time in over a year last month. The incredibly popular T20 version of the game kicked off its season on Wednesday, with a few hundred fans in the grounds supplemented by thousands watching online. The teams have been providing free streams of all of their games this season, either through their website, YouTube or Facebook.
The first game of the season was the mid-afternoon start between Lancashire and Derbyshire from Old Trafford, streamed via YouTube and the Lancashire Facebook page. With approximately 17,000 fans watching online, the game was rudely interrupted on YouTube by a notice, saying that “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by England and wales cricket borad /Sporta Technologies Pvt.ltd.” Note the ‘wales’ not being capitalised, or the incorrect spelling of board (‘borad’). A few hours later exactly the same thing happened with the YouTube coverage of the games being streamed by Kent and Somerset.
The ECB did not submit a claim to YouTube, and in the words of Lancashire Cricket Club, “It is absolutely clear that no copyright infringement has been made in the streaming of this game”. The ECB vowed to investigate the situation with YouTube.
Digital piracy costs rights holders billion of pounds every year. It is a huge, global issue and platforms such as YouTube have invested significantly in artificial intelligence that enables swift detection and removal of infringing material. However, any specific intellectual property infringement claims against material being hosted or streamed on YouTube has to follow a set process (details here). It quite clearly states that “The copyright owner or agent authorised to act on the owner’s behalf should submit the request” – in other words you cannot submit a claim if you have no material interest in the content. This means only the IP owner or their authorised agent, such as a brand protection company or IP law firm, can request for material to be removed.
YouTube state that “Do not make false claims. Misuse of the takedown webform, such as submitting false information, may result in the suspension of your account or other legal consequences” and then prior to the submission of any claim that “The information in this notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, I am the owner, or an agent authorised to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed”
However, it appears that YouTube acted on a request not from the rights holder, the ECB, but on a third party who didn’t use a spell checker. This begs the question as to whether the platforms, in their haste to act on removal requests, do not carry out robust enough checks on who is making the claim.
All three teams were able to continue to stream the games via Facebook (it does beg the question whether a similar infringement claim was sent to them but they saw it wasn’t from a genuine rights holder) and fortunately, this wasn’t a paid event, which would have led to refund claims from viewers. Hopefully, an investigation by YouTube, the world’s biggest and most popular video sharing and streaming platform, will clarify what happened and make the necessary tweaks to ensure that it won’t happen again.
Digital piracy is still a huge issue that rights holders and the platform providers are constantly trying to battle, but in the heat of the moment, it is important to ensure that the genuine content isn’t impacted otherwise everyone will be on a sticky wicket.