The governing body of European football has been granted a High Court injunction aimed at tackling illicit streaming of matches.
A judge in London made an order applied for by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) against the six main retail internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK.
Although five of the providers supported the move, with a sixth neither supporting nor opposing the application, Mr Justice Arnold said he still had to decide whether an injunction was “justified”.
The judge said the claim by the body, which organises a number of European football competitions, including the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, was for an injunction “requiring” the service providers “to take measures to block, or at least impede, access by their customers to streaming servers which deliver infringing live streams of UEFA competition matches to UK consumers”.
Mr Justice Arnold said in a written decision just published: “The UEFA competitions are very popular with television viewers in the UK. This year’s Champions League final attracted several million viewers.”
He added: “UEFA’s evidence establishes that it owns the copyright in television broadcasts of all matches in the UEFA competitions, and in films (particularly replays), artistic works and musical works which are incorporated within those broadcasts.”
The judge said BT “has since 2013 been the exclusive licensee of the rights to broadcast and transmit the Uefa competitions in the UK”.
He continued: “The rights are very valuable. BT currently pays approximately £360 million each season for these rights together with the rights in respect of the UEFA Super Cup.”
Mr Justice Arnold said the governing body, whose members consist of 55 national football associations, contended that the order it sought was “appropriate and proportionate”.
The judge said the “need for such orders has been emphasised” by further evidence which had become available “as to the scale of the problem of illicit streaming”.
“By way of example, in a report entitled Cracking Down on Digital Piracy published by the Federation Against Copyright Theft in September 2017, the UK Intellectual Property Office was quoted as saying that it believed that, at a conservative estimate, a million set-top boxes with software added to them to facilitate illegal streaming had been sold in the UK in the last couple of years.”
Mr Justice Arnold said that as the order “affects third parties who are not before the court”, the fact that the application “is either supported or not opposed” by the defendants – British Telecommunications PLC, EE Limited, Plusnet PLC, Sky UK Limited, TalkTalk Telecom Limited and Virgin Media Limited – “does not absolve the court from the responsibility of considering whether the order is justified”.
He concluded: “I am satisfied that the court has jurisdiction to make the order sought and that it is appropriate to do so.”
The order, he said, will take effect on February 13 next year and last until May 26.