If you’re like most soccer fans without access to cable and no other way to watch your favorite club every week, chances are you’ve used online streaming sites. As someone who has had access to English Premier League games almost exclusively through these sites, I have been impressed by the quality and quantity of the streams offered – but have had a number of questions to go along. How are these streaming sites not illegal? How is the quality of streams often so pure even when thousands of people are using the stream? How does the Premier League (and other leagues) feel about these sites – because while they may be taking viewership away, they are undoubtedly also bringing in more fans.
For years, the go-to streaming hub for all soccer games, regardless of league or nationality, was the Reddit forum r/soccerstreams, a community with over 425,000 subscribers. In January of this year it was shut down by the site’s administrators, raising questions like why now when it had operated on the site for years without intervention. A statement from the site administrator read: “‘We’ve officially reached critical mass. I regret to inform you all that a few days ago the Reddit Admins got in touch with us about an impeding ban of this subreddit if changes weren’t made.” According to the administrators, the forum had been in breach of Reddit’s user agreement that states pirated material will be removed and that repeat infringers will be banned.
The issue represented here just within the website Reddit is reflective of a larger fight by soccer leagues against piracy in all forms. In July of 2018, a High Court order granted the Premier League power to disrupt and block illegal streams of its owned content to protect their US$10 billion broadcast rights. A similar order led to over 200,000 streams being blocked during the 2017-2018 season and while the statistics are not yet available for this season, that number is almost certainly higher.
In January of this year, the Premier League took their fight against piracy one step further by opening an office in Singapore with the sole purpose of fighting piracy. The opening of this office is a continuation of the league’s anti-piracy focus, especially in the continent of Asia, where the league has taken legal action against illegal apps and supported raids against suppliers of illegal streaming services. Clearly then this problem is not solvable with the banning of one website, as the Premier League’s continued and (largely unsuccessful) attack on streaming hosts has proven.
As recently as Saturday, this issue has taken on a new chapter, as the Premier League and its main broadcasters won a case against Singapore pirate box distributor Synnex Trading. The victory is more of a symbolic one than an impactful one, as the fine to director Abdul Nagib only amounted to $883. Despite this, the case was the first successful prosecution against pirate box distributors and could be responsible for setting a new precedent with regard to anti-piracy law.
Now with all this information, the questions I had before researching have largely been answered. Yes, these streams are illegal; and yes, the Premier League is taking action to stop them. However, as a relentless follower of English soccer, I and many others on the internet have naturally found new places to stream the games for free. I have a hard time imagining that this problem will be solved any time soon, because the demand (especially outside of England where broadcasting may not show the game fans want to see) will continue to grow, and as long as that is true, the supply of streams will match it. So as I see it this problem will only get worse. And from a cheap student’s perspective, I kind of hope the streaming sites make it a war of attrition.