The Legal Cut

    Media lawyer Saarah Badr discusses some of the problems with content piracy
    Saarah Badr, Bird & Bird.
    Saarah Badr, Bird & Bird.


    Content: it ain’t cheap... Over eight million viewers tuned in to the Season 5 finale of the action filled medieval fantasy, Game of Thrones, in June (according to Nielsen’s “same day plus live” estimates). Each episode of GOT reportedly costs around US$ 6 million to make (making it the third most expensive show of all time).

    Production costs for these high budget shows are often partially funded or recouped by TV networks paying huge sums to obtain exclusive regional distribution rights for the content. The network’s costs are then passed onto the content consumer through subscription fees. That is, until the pirates get involved.

    Piracy versus content creation: In legal terms, piracy is copyright infringement, that is, the use of content in a way that hasn’t been authorised by the owner of the rights in that content (i.e. not paying for a licence to use or view the content).

    Gone are the days when pirated content consisted of a boxset of badly printed DVDs with indecipherable blurbs on the back being offered by the “DVD lady”. Piracy is a now a many faceted and far more sophisticated offence.

    But it looks like a legitimate site…

    The battle to combat piracy has moved online, with stolen content being offered for streaming from professional looking, sponsored, video on demand platforms.

    Content that has been reproduced, uploaded and published without the permission of the rights owner is illegal. The UAE’s Cybercrimes Law 2012 is explicitly clear that owning or operating a platform to provide illegal content is an offence, punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

    Last year, a study by Digital Citizens Alliance (a non-profit internet watchdog), reported that illegal sites could be making as much as US$27 million from advertising revenues. Money that is being invested in illegal sites that provide pirated content is money taken from reinvestment in producing new content.

    But I paid for a box and subscription to stream content from abroad…

    Another common misconception is that by paying for a set top box and a subscription with the ability to stream certain content from abroad, receiving and watching that content is legal. So, for example, purchasing a box with the capabilities of receiving UK channels via the internet (from a server in Europe) does not mean that the distribution of those channels to that box is, in fact, legitimate.

    Content rights (i.e. copyright) are licenced on a territorial basis. This means that if I purchased the exclusive rights to distribute GOT in the Gulf region, I would be the only person authorised to allow others to watch the show in the UAE. If a company sells a set top box (and subscription) which enables customers to watch Sky Atlantic (and therefore GOT) in the UAE, that company is breaching my rights as the exclusive rights holder by selling customers the ability to watch GOT on my turf.

    Further, importing and producing devices with the intention of providing the means to illegally access content is an offence under the UAE Copyright Law 2002, again, punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

    But it’s a legitimate box and subscription…for another region

    A broadcaster in the subcontinent may have the rights to broadcast certain content to its subscriber base in India. However, if the signal downlinked from that broadcaster’s satellite has a wide “footprint” (i.e. reach), it may be possible to pick up signals intended only for the subcontinent in the UAE (the “overspill”).

    If one of the broadcaster’s subscribers takes their decoder (capable of decrypting the broadcaster’s signal) from India to the UAE, they may be able to watch the broadcaster’s channels in the UAE, due to the overspill. However, as the broadcaster does not have the rights to allow its subscribers to watch that content in the UAE, the viewing of that content in the UAE is unathorised.

    It’s an ecosystem: Revenue from content licencing needs to be reinvested in content production. Expensive shows are ultimately funded (at least in part) by consumers’ payment for legally viewing that content. If consumers turn towards illegitimate alternatives, less money is channeled back into producing the content we love.

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