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First Row Sports Website Earns a Red Card

Thursday, 29 August 2013

On 16 July 2013 the High Court in London passed judgement against a number of UK-based internet service providers (ISPs) forcing them to block public access to the ‘First Row’ website.

The big six ISPs including Sky and BT have been banned from allowing public access to the online service, which provides links to unlicensed streams of football and other sporting events.

The High Court ruled that First Row merely by facilitating access to websites streaming unlicensed sporting events was in breach of the Premier League’s copyright on the basis of a ‘communication to the public’ infringement.

The FA Premier League’s Case Against First Row

Mr Justice Arnold stated that although First Row merely compiled a number of links on its domain to enable users to access unlicensed streams of content on other websites, the website should be held responsible because it acted as a facilitator by presenting those links.

In particular, First Row was found to categorise and index its links to other websites, from where unlicensed content could be viewed. The court held that by doing so, First Row ‘communicated copyright works to the public’, in breach of Section 20 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Was the First Row Banning Order Justified?

In holding that the banning order was proportionate and justified, the judge took into account a wide range of factors, including the infringing nature of First Row’s actions, the lack of available remedies to the FA Premier League, the popularity and annual revenue of First Row (estimated at up to £10m) and the fact that the website mainly targeted UK users.

It should be noted that Mr Justice Arnold did not consider any prior arguments made, for example, in foreign jurisdictions, that support the view that linking itself does not constitute a ‘communication to the public’. This means that the judgement against First Row does not entirely clarify the situation as to when linking to unlicensed content on a website would infringe copyright.

The Implications of the Judgement Against First Row

The implications of this judgement are notable for two main reasons.

Firstly, it signals that the fight against online piracy has stepped up a gear as bodies such as the FA Premier League join the vanguard made up primarily of corporates from the entertainment industry.

Secondly, it is the first time that the courts have been willing to take action against a website which simply provides links to streaming sites, rather than sites hosting the unlicensed content itself.

However, rights holders should remain cautious about this victory. Sceptics note that the judgement does not in any way preclude the streams being uploaded on the web, and the users will still find ways to seek out these streams online and view unlicensed content on the internet.

Meanwhile, open internet campaigners argue that content owners should concentrate on finding means to facilitate the availability of legal methods to access online content, rather than waste resources on trying to secure blocking via expensive litigation suits.

For more information about this case or about protecting your intellectual property rights online please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.