SINGAPORE: Online pirates in the Southeast Asia region who make money off selling unauthorised access to Premier League football content, watch out: You're in the firing line.
More specifically, additional enforcement action against their illegal ways is being promised.
Mr Kevin Plumb, director of Legal Services at the Premier League, told Channel NewsAsia in an interview on Monday (Jan 21) that it is “not going to come here and not be engaged” with enforcement efforts. This comes on the heels of the UK football organisation opening its first international office in Singapore last week.
He also said the Premier League has been ramping up its enforcement action against those who have been infringing on its content rights for some time now, but mainly in the UK.
An example was when a UK High Court judge ordered the country’s major Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Sky and BT to block and disrupt servers that host illegal streams of the Premier League’s matches last July.
The Premier League would “feed” these ISPs with the offending IP addresses flagged by its backend systems, allowing the latter to block the streaming servers in real time. If the stream jumps to another IP address to evade the block, the Premier League is able to monitor such movements and “dynamically” block the new IP addresses as they migrate during the match, Mr Plumb explained.
He added that the Premier League is also actively enforcing its content rights worldwide, but given that the work is done from the UK, having “boots on the ground” with its Singapore office will aid greatly in its anti-piracy efforts.
The director said it is “actively” working with local telco Singtel on enforcement efforts. He pointed to last November's High Court ruling ordering ISPs here to block TV box apps that facilitate the streaming and download of content like movies, TV shows and live sports channels as an example.
The telco announced last November it won the rights for Premier League content for the next three seasons from August this year to May 2022. It will also be the official broadcaster of the Premier League in Singapore for 12 straight years.
With the new office here, Mr Plumb said it will be easier to get “local intelligence” on the illicit streaming activities and the platforms where these are carried out. The information will not just be for Singapore, but other markets such as Malaysia and Hong Kong as well, he added.
“Pirate ecosystems are different in different parts of the world,” he said.
The Premier League director also said the proposed changes in Singapore's Copyright Act, which will ban the sale of illicit set-top boxes, are “hugely positive”.
This is because the mooted changes will help address two of the top reasons why people in Singapore watch pirated content in the first place: That such content is not seen as socially unacceptable and the action is considered “low-risk”, he explained.
He did add that the exact wording of the law has yet to be finalised, and declined to comment further.
The Law Ministry said last week it will be drafting the amended law and will open it to public feedback when ready.
HIGH COSTS SHOULDN’T LEAD TO PIRACY
Besides wielding the proverbial stick to address the piracy issue, Mr Plumb said it will also increase efforts to educate consumers on the benefits of watching the games via legitimate means.
Shedding light on those who turn to illegal means to catch Premier League games, he pointed to the study released by YouGov last November that found 15 per cent of Singaporean consumers use TV boxes that can stream pirated television and video content.
Additionally, the average consumer in Singapore who turns to pirated content is “the affluent, middle-class, young male”, so it shows that these are people who can afford to pay to watch the games, the director said.
Asked if the costs of subscribing to watch these matches may have pushed consumers to turn to illegal methods, he reiterated that the Premier League does not set the prices in individual markets and only the broadcasters that have secured the rights have the “final say”.
“It is definitely something that we speak to broadcasters about … but it is up to them (to set the price),” Mr Plumb said.
“(High) costs should not tip you over to illicit content; it is not a binary concept,” he added.
He also hoped the high quality of content, top-class football players battling on the pitch and peace of mind of not introducing ransomware or other malware to one’s home computer because of illicit streaming will push consumers here towards legitimate sources.
“Can you imagine if you watched the 2012 match of Manchester City playing Queen’s Park Rangers on the stream and in stoppage time (Mario) Balotelli passes to (Sergio) Aguero … and the stream cuts off?” Mr Plumb said of the questionable quality of illegal streaming sites.
(Aguero scored the second of two stoppage-time goals to allow Manchester City wrench the Premier League trophy from city rivals Manchester United’s fingers.)
“That will do one’s head in. That’s game over.”