A New Technique in the Fight Against Illegal Streaming: The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act
It’s Saturday night and UFC1 fans around the world gather to watch the main event of the evening. Most fans will gather with friends or head on down to the local sports bar.2 But for a few, the $69.993 price tag of the pay-per-view makes illegal online streams look enticing. With a quick search and a few clicks, dozens of illegal streams of the pay-per-view become instantly available.4
For the UFC and many other sports, illegal streaming has been a bug that seems impossible to squash. The UFC and other combat sports, such as boxing, are especially vulnerable because they continue to rely on the pay-per-view model.5 The UFC estimated that piracy costs them about 30 million dollars per year.6 Online illegal streams have been a problem for the UFC for a while. In 2009, former UFC owner, Lorenzo Fertitta, testified in front of congress that at least 140,000 people watched UFC 106 illegally.7 He wanted to express his growing concern for the future of illegal streaming of copyrighted material.8
Now over a decade later, UFC president Dana White recently announced that he has a surprise in store for anyone distributing illegal UFC pay-per-views. “We just overcame a huge hurdle in the piracy world, and we’re going to catch some of these guys in 2021, and I look forward to the crying and the begging… We’ll see how tough they are when they get caught.”9 While Dana White remained vague, he is likely referring to the new Protecting Lawful Streaming Act.
The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act was signed into law on December 27, 2020 as part of the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2021.10 This statute is aimed at addressing illegal online streaming services that “costs the U.S. economy nearly $30 billion every year.”11 Older laws became outdated by modern technology and created a loophole for criminals profiting off piracy.12 While making pirated content available for download was subject to a felony charge, those making the same content available for streaming were only subject to a misdemeanor.13 There has been a long-felt need for this type of bill.14
Under the newly enacted law, it is now unlawful to provide a digital transmission that 1) is primarily designed for publicly performing works that are protected by copyright without permission, 2) has no other purpose other than performing the protected work, or 3) is intentionally marketed to promote the distribution of the copyrighted work without authorization.15 Offenders can be imprisoned for up to five years for the first offense and up to ten years for second offenses.16 Congress seems to have included the phase “digital transmission” in the bill to target commercial streaming services that are uploading and transmitting the copyrighted material without permission. So, the average internet user who may watch one of these streams does not need to fear the police knocking on their door.
But how successful will the new bill be at fending off the illegal streams? Dana White reported that while they failed to catch their targeted streamer for UFC 257.17 White noted there were less streams after his threats, and he will continue to work with authorities.18 So though the fight is not over, the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act will be a tool in the battle against online piracy for years to come.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”) is a United States based mixed martial arts (“MMA”) organization. MMA is a “full-contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques and skills from a mixture of other combat sports to be used in competition.” About the UFC – the Sport, UFC https://www.ufc.com/about/sport [https://perma.cc/7C46-NYLN] (last visited Mar. 19, 2021).↩
How Much Does UFC PPV Fight Cost?, ESPN https://help.espnplus.com/espnplus_hc?id=espnplus_article_content&sys_kb_id=43dcec54dbb79498534deadc1396190e [https://perma.cc/H99M-NUDQ] (last visited Mar. 19, 2021).↩
See, e.g., https://duckduckgo.com/ (search query “free mma streaming online”).↩
Josh Peter, Mike Tyson’s Return to Boxing Against Roy Jones Jr. Generated More than $80 million in Revenue, USA Today (Dec. 8, 2020, 1:58 AM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/boxing/2020/12/07/mike-tyson-vs-roy-jones-jr-bout-80-m-pay-per-view-bonanza/6487482002/[https://perma.cc/KZ9W-EQUR].↩
Jed Meshew, Morning Report: Dana White Doubles Down on Piracy Warning: ‘We’ll See How Tough they are When they Get Caught’, MMAFighting (Jan. 14, 2021, 8:00 AM), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/1/14/22230568/dana-white-doubles-down-on-piracy-warning-well-see-how-tough-they-are-when-they-get-caught [https://perma.cc/8NB4-UU5Z].↩
Michael David Smith, Lorenzo Fertitta: 140,000 People Viewed UFC 106 Illegally, MMAFighting(Dec. 16, 2009 4:41 PM), https://www.mmafighting.com/2009/12/16/lorenzo-fertitta-140-000-people-viewed-ufc-106-illegally [https://perma.cc/YPS5-6LUC].↩
Nolan King, Dana White Doubles Down on Illegal UFC Streamers: ‘I Look Forward to the Crying and Begging’, MMAJunkie (Jan. 13, 2021 5:15 PM), https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2021/01/ufc-news-dana-white-illegal-streamers-piracy-crying-begging [https://perma.cc/7J6K-CJQ8].↩
See H.R. 133, 116th Cong. (2020) (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2319C).↩
SeePress Release, Bipartisan Legislation Led by Tillis and Leahy to Fight Illegal Streaming by Criminal Organizations to be Signed Into Law, Sen. Thom Tillis (Dec. 21, 2021), https://www.tillis.senate.gov/2020/12/bipartisan-legislation-led-by-tillis-and-leahy-to-fight-illegal-streaming-by-criminal-organizations-to-be-signed-into-law [https://perma.cc/2T2X-JUXS].↩
Kevin Madigan, Protecting Lawful Streaming Act Signed Into Law: What You Need to Know, Copyright All. (Jan. 12, 2021), https://copyrightalliance.org/protecting-lawful-streaming-act-signed/ [https://perma.cc/QXQ8-FECA].↩
See Letter from the Copyright Office to Sen. Tom Tillis, Chairman, Subcomm. on Intell. Prop., Senate Judiciary Comm. (July 18, 2019), https://www.copyright.gov/laws/hearings/letter-to-senators-tillis-and-coons-on-felony-streaming.pdf[https://perma.cc/N8NY-DDJQ].↩
18 U.S.C. § 2319C.↩
Steven Marrocco, Dana White: ‘One of the Big’ Illegal Streamers Sat Out UFC 258, ‘We’ll Keep Doing What we’re Doing’, MMAFighting (Feb. 14, 2021, 2:00 PM), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/2/14/22282650/dana-white-one-of-the-big-illegal-streamers-sat-out-ufc-258-well-keep-doing-what-were-doing [https://perma.cc/A72A-J7QG].↩