NFL Warns Bars Showing Blacked-Out Games

The NFL on Wednesday sent a letter to eight bars and restaurants that reportedly showed Internet-streamed live coverage of last weekend’s NFL games, including the contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers, which was blacked out in the Tampa, FL, market. The letter says the NFL is aware of the establishments’ activities and warns that “this unauthorized public performance of copyrighted NFL Games Telecasts constitutes infringement under the Copyright Act and is a clear violation of the NFL’s rights.”

The letter goes on to warn that such infringement can result in damage awards of up to $150,000 per game.

The issue came to light earlier this week when the Tampa Tribune ran stories on one local bar, O’Brien’s Irish Pub and Grill, which accessed a single-camera feed of the Bucs-Steelers game after finding a link on the internet. The paper says the game was not advertised by the bar but drew between 200 and 300 people. Owner Bernie O’Brien is quoted saying, “If someone shows me we’re breaking the law, we’ll stop doing it. I wouldn’t do it if I was going to be in trouble.”

NFL spokesperson Dan Masonson said in an e-mail to SVG, “Typically, these establishments will comply. and there will no further infringement issues.”

O’Brien was not available by phone on Wednesday. The other seven bars and restaurants were not identified by the NFL.

During SVG’s Digital Sports Summit on Sept. 22, in a session addressing issues of copy-protection, panelists Joshua Cohen of iPharro Media, Tom Miller of Civolution, and Larry Meli of Vobile spoke about Internet piracy.

“There’s too much leakage, too much theft,” said Miller. “The world has changed. [Live sports] is highly disposable content that only has a short shelf life. You have to protect it.”

Cohen agreed but said, “You can’t take down everything. You have fans. They love their teams.”

The industry uses a couple of technologies to identify pirated streams and files. Watermarking embeds data imperceptible to viewers and listeners into digital video and audio. Fingerprinting involves techniques for analyzing content to determine the owner and source.

It is not clear what sources were used in identifying the seven unnamed establishments in the Tampa area, but the feed shown at O’Brien’s was a single-camera wide shot streaming live from the stadium.

Companies like Vobile, Civolution, and iPharro constantly monitor the Internet for pirated music, movies, and live streams. When Websites are identified as carrying copyrighted content, they are contacted and asked to immediately take down the link.

But, Vobile’s Meli acknowledged, “it’s a bit of a whack-a-mole thing.”

The Buccaneers’ next home game is scheduled for Oct. 17 versus the New Orleans Saints.

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