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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 05:06 GMT 06:06 UK
Sport puts up fight to protect rights
By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Manchester United celebrate winning 2006/07 Premier League
The Premier League is in a number of actions to protect its rights

With sport becoming ever bigger business, its paymaster is no longer the fan at the gate.

Instead, it is the media companies paying eye-watering sums for broadcasting rights.

And in a market hungry for TV, internet and mobile phone rights sporting rights holders need to make sure they protect their product.

But here the supporters come back into the picture. They may not be underwriting the sports they love through ticket sales as once they did, but in an on-demand, user-interactive, multi-platform era, it is crucial not to alienate the sports fans.

'Protection needed'

Instead, sports have to find ways for fans to feel they are contributing to the news and content.

"The increase in user-generated-content (UGC) and social networking sites are one of the major biggest developments we have seen with regard to sporting rights," says Rachael Church-Sanders, editor of e-newsletter Sport and Technology.

"At the same time we also have Viacom, Seconds Out and the FA Premier League suing YouTube over footage that has been posted there.

The most valuable right is live content, but there is also value in clips which can be delivered online or to mobiles
Christopher Stokes, NetResult

"Some rights owners will see these changes as an opportunity, while others will see it as a threat."

Many of those worried about UGC turn to firms such as NetResult, which works on behalf of rights holders and takes illegal content off the internet.

Its clients include football leagues in the UK, UEFA, Formula One, and the cricket and rugby union world cups.

"The most valuable right is live content, but there is also value in clips which can be delivered online or to mobiles," says NetResult chief executive Christopher Stokes.

"You also need to protect crests, logos, live data and live scoring, though many are happy to licence this sort of material to third parties."

'Niche sport'

However, that kind of licensing does not cover the YouTube factor.

The popular video sharing website - and other similar ones - has many sporting organisations, media organisations and rights holders expressing concern at some of the sporting material posted there.

YouTube has been named in two high-profile class action cases led by Viacom and the Premier League, which target the appearance on the site of what the claimants' say are "pirated" clips.

Vladimir Klitschko
Footage of a Klitschko fight on YouTube is causing some concern

Someone else with YouTube in his sights is Robert Waterman, a boxing entrepreneur who owns the website

He is suing YouTube over a world boxing championship fight between Vladimir Klitschko and Ray Austin that he streamed exclusively on his website in March.

But the entire bout was posted on shortly after the fight and could be viewed for free.

YouTube says it will be happy to remove the clips if Mr Waterman sends them the web addresses of the offending clips.

But that, he insists, should not be his responsibility.

"The fight was on YouTube within minutes of the end of the fight and it is still up there," he told the BBC at a recent Sport Business Group conference.

"Your rights are not being monetised when your events go up on YouTube. I am operating in a large niche sport, and this sort of thing can destroy earning power."

Mr Waterman is also unhappy that another Klitschko fight he broadcast, on 7 July, appeared on YouTube, before being removed by his German broadcasting partners.

A YouTube spokesman said: "We are working with copyright holders across Europe, including with many sporting organisations, to help them exercise their rights, whether they choose to promote, take down or monetise their videos.

"We have met to explain how they can use the tools we have developed to help rights-holders manage their content on YouTube."

'Empowering copyright holders'

YouTube's owner Google also says it is introducing new measures in the battle against sports rights piracy by developing video clip identification technology for its file-sharing site.

It hopes that will allow sports rights-holders to combat unauthorised use of their content.

We spend a lot of time checking out content, we don't want to break the law
Ze'Ev Rozov, Sportingo

The new technology could allow rights-holders who form a relationship with YouTube to either take down the clips or monetise them through advertising in a revenue share with the site.

It is testing new video fingerprinting technology with Disney, Time Warner, and other media companies, partners and non-partners.

"Our upcoming video identification system will be our latest way of empowering copyright holders, going above and beyond legal requirements," YouTube's spokesman says.

'Fan attention'

However, not all material posted by non-rights holders need necessarily be subject to controversy.

Some, after all, is generated by the fans themselves - and forms the source material for sites such as Sportingo, which publishes fan articles and photographs, as well as offering direction to useful sports audiovisual resources and statistics.

However, it is not an unregulated free-for-all, as the site has a team of sub-editors to tidy up articles and ensure there are no copyright breaches.

"We are all operating in a sporting economy which is about getting fans' attention," says Ze'Ev Rozov, Sportingo's chief executive.

"If rights holders do not pay attention to fans, then someone else will fill the void."

Sportingo UGC website

But he adds: "We spend a lot of time checking out content. We don't want to break the law."

Still, threats remain for rights holders, such as from peer-to-peer applications.

For example, coverage of English Premiership football matches has in the past been put on peer-to-peer networks and then watched around the world.

No live Premiership matches are yet available legally online anywhere in the world but from 2007/08, Sky and Setanta Sports - who have the UK TV rights until 2010 - will also be able to broadcast them legally on the internet.

The BBC has the rights to stream recorded highlights to UK internet users, while Sky Sports is sending clips to mobiles.

Before then the Premier League hopes to complete High Court actions against three websites unlawfully showing its games online, one of which is a peer-to-peer.

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