The Football Association Premier League (FAPL) has won a landmark case in preventing the illegal streaming of Premier League fixtures online.
The six largest retail internet service providers (ISPs) have been ordered to block their UK customers’ access to servers which transmit broadcasts of Premier League football matches.
The High Court decision in FAPL v British Telecommunications Plc and others  EWHC 480 (ch), 13 March 2017, is the first of its kind as BT, Sky, Virgin, EE, Talk Talk and Plusnet were ordered to block access to the streaming servers, as opposed to the websites directly.
FAPL relied on section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, introduced on 31 October 2003. Such legislation was also used in FAPL v British Sky Broadcasting Ltd and others  EWHC 2058 (Ch), 16 July 2013, ordering ISPs to block access to FirstRow Sports, a site that allowed users to access streams of Premier League football matches.
Since the 2013 ruling, users have increasingly switched to accessing the content via media players and apps instead of web-browsers, which connect directly to the servers.
The order was justified on the grounds that restricting access to streaming servers was more efficient than blocking websites, as such sites which link or embed content could shutdown and rebrand under a different web address, yet still stream the same content. Consequently the order was seen as necessary to break the chain in infringement, as one streaming server could feed multiple client browsers.
Arnold J has laid out criteria for identifying streaming servers; namely FAPL “must reasonably believe that the server has the sole or predominant purpose of enabling or facilitating access to infringing streams of Premier League match footage or must not know or have reason to believe that the server is being used for any other substantial purpose” (see paragraph 21 of the order). A further criteria was not named as to prevent the order being circumvented.
Uniquely, this blocking order is “live”, in that it is only effective during a Premier League season. It came into force on 18 March 2017 and will run to 22 May 2017, allowing FAPL to evaluate the order’s success. The order also provides for the list of servers to be “reset” weekly to help FAPL identify new infringing servers.
Just as the FirstRow Sports ruling built on previous applications of section 97A which focused taking down peer-to-peer file share sites, so too this order will construct further barriers to access illegal streams of copyrighted material.