No, You May Not Periscope Mayweather-Pacquiao

Distributors are adjusting to yet another way for people to steal video

Manny Pacquiao trains for his upcoming fight against Floyd Mayweather at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California on April 15, 2015. 
National Journal
April 30, 2015, 4 p.m.

Peri­scope and Meerkat are ruff­ling the movie and TV in­dustry’s feath­ers, even if they’re try­ing not to show it.

Be­lieve it or not, it’s only been roughly six weeks since the twin live stream­ing plat­forms were in­tro­duced. They now boast hun­dreds of thou­sands of users each and are inch­ing closer to the main­stream. Someone scrolling through the list of feeds will come across charged scenes of protest in Bal­timore, count­less re­fri­ger­at­ors, and, on Thursday af­ter­noon, the cam­paign an­nounce­ment of the new­est Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial con­tender, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But bey­ond polit­ics, or­gan­iz­ing, and fridges, live stream users are point­ing their cam­er­as at something that’s mak­ing TV and movie ex­ec­ut­ives a little nervous: paid broad­casts of everything from Game of Thrones to the next big sport­ing event.

And they’re not sit­ting on their couches wait­ing to re­act.

This month, HBO sent take­down no­tices to Peri­scope when it found users were stream­ing epis­odes of Game of Thrones on the plat­form. And the net­work, along with Show­time, is also go­ing after a pair of web­sites that prom­ised to stream this week­end’s “Fight of the Cen­tury,” box­ing match between Floyd May­weath­er and Manny Pac­quiao.

HBO and Show­time say the sites would be steal­ing the pay-per-view stream, which users are pay­ing between $89 to $100 to watch. But un­like with these sites, which ad­vert­ised their in­ten­tion to steam the match, a Peri­scope user could start stream­ing it without warn­ing, which means stu­di­os can do noth­ing about them yet.

When Peri­scope and Meerkat were just get­ting off the ground, rep­res­ent­at­ives of the in­dustry didn’t sound very wor­ried. A spokes­wo­man for the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica told Na­tion­al Journ­al in March that film­makers and stu­di­os are more fo­cused on large-scale pir­acy than in­di­vidu­als copy­right vi­ol­at­ors.

At the time, a spokes­man for the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Broad­casters said then that people us­ing live stream­ing plat­forms to share broad­cast TV would be troub­ling, but that broad­casters wer­en’t aware of any al­leged copy­right ab­uses.

Pir­acy by stream­ing has also caught the at­ten­tion of the gov­ern­ment. In testi­mony to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee this week, Maria Pal­lante, the head of the U.S. Copy­right Of­fice, said il­leg­al stream­ing should be a felony.

“As stream­ing be­comes a dom­in­ant meth­od of ob­tain­ing con­tent on­line, un­law­ful stream­ing has no less of an ad­verse im­pact on the rights of copy­right own­ers than un­law­ful dis­tri­bu­tion,” Pal­lante said.

For now, copy­right hold­ers are re­ly­ing on the plat­forms to go after il­leg­al stream­ing.”In gen­er­al, we feel de­velopers should have tools which pro­act­ively pre­vent mass copy­right in­fringe­ment from oc­cur­ring on their apps and not be solely re­li­ant upon no­ti­fic­a­tions,” HBO said in a state­ment after it sent take­down no­tices to Peri­scope over Game of Thrones.

But neither Peri­scope nor Meerkat has a sys­tem to pre­vent users from stream­ing copy­righted con­tent, in­stead re­ly­ing on oth­er users to flag streams that vi­ol­ate copy­right law.

Meerkat had copy­right-re­lated grow­ing pains when it was in­tro­duced. For weeks, the email ad­dress it lis­ted on its web­site for copy­right com­plaints was broken, and emails sent to it bounced.

But since Na­tion­al Journ­al no­ti­fied Meerkat CEO Ben Ru­bin about the prob­lem last month, it seems to be fixed. An email sent to the ad­dress Thursday in­quir­ing after the copy­right pro­cess got a prompt reply from Ru­bin: “Of course it’s work­ing. Straight to the CEO—that’s how much we care.”

Ru­bin says Meerkat hasn’t re­ceived any take­down no­tices for user con­tent.

Al­though stream­ing has shown to be prob­lem­at­ic for broad­casters and film stu­di­os, the in­dustry has re­mained meas­ured in its mes­saging. “I don’t think there’s been any ma­jor shift in think­ing on this since we spoke,” said the MPAA’s Kate Be­ding­field.

Chris Dodd, a former sen­at­or and the MPAA’s CEO, isn’t go­ing after the stream­ing plat­forms either. “We don’t want the tech world to think we have zero tol­er­ance for new in­nov­a­tions and new ideas that come along,” Dodd said at an event last week.

But John Fith­i­an, CEO of the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Theatre Own­ers, was more trans­par­ent. “Peri­scope is scary stuff,” Fith­i­an, who was speak­ing with Dodd at the event, said.

The May­weath­er-Pac­quiao fight is Sat­urday night. But fans will need to get out their wal­lets to stream it leg­ally.

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