Over the past several weeks, several rights holders have submitted applications to the European Commission hoping to add sites and services to the upcoming “Counterfeiting and Piracy Watch List”.
Today, we look at the introduction of LaLiga which has been fighting a long battle against the Buccaneers for several years. Regular website blocking and dynamic commands targeting IPTV services and criminal investigations are part of its toolkit.
In a call to action sent to the European Commission, LaLiga is calling out several pirated IPTV services and illegal streaming websites that are making live matches available to the public in copyright infringement. Those detailed in the two images below are undoubtedly illegal services. In at least one case, there are violations of trademark law as well.
While these are all straightforward cases, LaLiga goes further by attempting to paint software tools as abuse as well.
LaLiga reports ’empty’ IPTV players to the European Commission
To access any type of video content stored either on the internet or on a local device, users need some kind of software to facilitate this. From a basic web browser to dedicated media players like VLC, many tools will do the job, but when users want to access IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) streams, they often turn to tools designed for that specific purpose.
Many tools are available, some of which are free (open source or ad-supported) and others that require a small fee. However, what the vast majority have in common is that they are just video players and mostly come without any content installed ‘out of the box’. When you upload infringing content, rights holders around the world call them “pirated streaming apps”, not IPTV players.
Of course, similar to other content neutral tools like VLC, most IPTV players are capable of playing both legal and illegal content. Crucially, this choice is up to the user.
If the tools were attached to an infringing channel playlist (usually in .m3u/.m3u8 format), that would immediately render them illegal and open serious liability to their operators. Most developers avoid doing this, but LaLiga believes their software tools are still illegal, even when they don’t upload any infringing TV content.
Chart below [truncated by TF to include all with more than 500,000 downloads] Includes the most relevant player applications, as of the date of this contribution, which total eight and five (85). All of them have the same characteristics and are monitored by LaLiga. The millions of downloads of all these apps describe the serious threat they pose,” LaLiga wrote.
“It is important to note that all these player applications allow the consumption of an infinite amount of audiovisual content such as sports, movies, TV series channels, etc. In other words, this problem affects the audiovisual and entertainment industry in general,” adds LaLiga, choosing his words carefully.
In fact, if we look at all the applications that “allow the consumption of an infinite amount of audiovisual content” we can start with Chrome, Firefox and Safari, and then add Windows Media Player and VLC. The big question is, does LaLiga provide any additional facts to support the allegations of abuse?
“Illegal Application” IPTV by Alexander Sofronov
As the most downloaded IPTV player on LaLiga’s list and supposedly a good example of the offending app, LaLiga highlights developer Alexander Sofronov’s IPTV app. It exists here on Google Play but was previously available via another URL.
In support of the case for suppressing this IPTV application, LaLiga provides the following screenshot:
This was captured when the “IPTV” app was available at the URL previously available on Google Play (Copy here via the Wayback Machine). This is noteworthy because, for reasons known only to LaLiga, the Football League has decided to leave out the most important aspect of the “IPTV” app – it carries neither channels nor playlist, so users have to provide them with their own channels. (see last line in uncropped version)
The European Commission is supposed to run its own independent checks against all the apps on LaLiga’s list, and if they come up with any infringing playlists or TV channels, action will need to be taken. However, the top few places listed in the Football League do not appear to fall into this category.
Other illegal apps
For example, “IPTV Extreme” (hereGoogle Play) specifically “PLEASE DON’T ASK ME FOR PLAYLISTS, I DO NOT HAVE / DO NOT SHARE / DO NOT SELL PLAYLISTS!” and GSE Smart IPTV (here) states: “Please note that this app does not contain any playlists except for sample playlists. User must provide their own content.”
We haven’t tested them all, but if there’s any ‘player’ on the list that is providing infringing content out of the box, Google’s DMCA removal process will do the trick meaning help from the European Commission isn’t required. However, LaLiga makes its own offering as to why these apps are illegal.
“LaLiga has powerful technical tools developed in-house and a team of experts working daily to detect these illegal applications. Naturally, LaLiga has more comprehensive and detailed technical information than that included in this contribution, which can be brought to the attention of the European Commission if necessary,”
Finally, it should be noted that the way apps are promoted can play a role in determining their legitimacy. If developers promote their tools for infringing purposes, there may be an issue to be answered, even when the infringing playlists do not exist.
For example, in the case of the ‘IPTV’ app, it is currently being marketed with screenshots on Google Play showing BBC channels. This is perhaps less problematic because publicly available playlists use BBC URLs which can be accessed legally by those with a UK TV license and UK IP address. However, if the developers offered lists of Hollywood movies or subscription channels, it would be hard to argue with that.
The full LaLiga submission, including all “illegal” IPTV players, can be found here (pdf)