UEFA granted blocking injunction in Ireland

The latest injunction granted to UEFA to block illegal streaming of live football shows a growing determination by rights holders and internet service providers alike to tackle the issue, writes Dan Harrington.

Just last month, UEFA was granted a ‘live-blocking’ injunction by the Irish High Court against Eircom trading as Eir, Sky Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland and Vodafone Ireland. This follows an earlier decision from this year in which the Irish High Court granted an extension of a similar injunction to the Premier League against these ISPs. 

The injunctions require ISPs to block access to streaming servers which are used to transmit unauthorised live coverage of UEFA or Premier League matches for the 2020/2021 football season, and provide further evidence of the efficacy and importance of such rulings to protect copyright owners’ ability to exploit their media rights.

Barniville J’s judgments in both cases reflect on the conditions for the grant of an injunction against ISPs and the circumstances in which it may be extended. Taking each in turn:

Union Des Associations Européennes De Football -v- Eircom Limited T/A Eir & Ors [2020] IEHC 488

UEFA claimed that various fixtures from its Champions League and Europa League competitions were being streamed online, thereby infringing its copyright. It alleged that such illegal streaming has severe commercial and financial implications for the organisation by damaging its ability to generate revenue from its media rights.  

It therefore sought an injunction requiring the ISPs to block access to IP addresses of servers which were being used, or which it apprehended would be used, by third parties to make available infringing streams. None of the ISPs opposed the grant of an injunction, with Sky Ireland supporting UEFA’s application.

Barniville J granted the injunction following the test set out by Hogan J in Sony Music Entertainment (Ireland) v UPC Communications Ireland Ltd [2016] IECA 231, namely:

(i)         that it was necessary;

(ii)        that the costs involved were not excessive or disproportionate and that the order itself should not be unduly complicated;

(iii)        that the cost sharing proposals were fair and reasonable;

(iv)        that the order respected the fundamental rights of the parties affected, including internet users; and

(v)        that the duration of the proposed injunction and the provisions for review were reasonable.

The Football Association Premier League Limited -v- Eircom Limited (Trading as Eir) & Ors [2020] IEHC 332, 

The Premier League sought the extension of a ‘live-blocking’ injunction against Eircom trading as Eir, Sky Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland and Vodafone Ireland, which was originally granted by Haughton J in 2019.  The application for extension covered the remainder of the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 football season.  None of the ISPs opposed the extension, with Sky Ireland also supporting the Premier League’s application.

When considering the grant of an extension, Barniville J considered the effectiveness of the previous injunction, noting that “effectiveness does not require 100% success so long as the remedy has significant persuasive effect”. This was satisfied through affidavit evidence which established that it had been effective through increased compliance rates, a reduction in use of illegal streaming devices to access pirated content and that there was no evidence of “over-blocking”.

Further, Barniville J noted that the grant of an extension would respect the “legitimate rights of internet users” and strike a “fair balance” between the Plaintiff and internet users in line with the Spiegel Online GmbH v Beck (C-516/17) case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The impact for football and for ISPs

Media rights holders have been fighting an ongoing battle against pirates offering free or low-price streams and, although this does not signal the end of that fight or illegal streaming as a whole, both cases are important examples of the protection available to media rights holders.  At stake is the future value of exclusive media rights, which are presently traded for billions of dollars in revenues for both UEFA and the Premier League each year. 

The judgments demonstrate that injunctions are an important and effective tool among a range of weapons available to combat illegal streaming and piracy. These cases also reflect a pattern of similar injunction claims brought by rights holders to protect their broadcasting rights in the UK and elsewhere[1]. 

Footnote: [1] See also Union Des Associations Européennes de Football v British Telecommunications Plc & Ors [2017] EWHC 3414 (Ch)Matchroom Boxing Ltd & Anor v British Telecommunications Plc & Ors [2018] EWHC 2443 (Ch); and Queensberry Promotions Ltd v British Telecommunications Plc & Ors (Order made by Arnold J. on 28 November 2018)

By Dan Harrington

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