The High Court of Justice in England has ordered Internet service providers in the U.K. to ban FirstRow Sports, one of the most popular sports streaming websites on the Internet. The request comes from The Premier League, the top football league in England and arguably the most popular professional sports league in the world, and was supported by several professional sports organizations.
Six major ISPs -- BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, Be and O2 -- will not black access to firstrow1.eu. The U.S. version of the website is still available to American fans.
FirstRow Sports receives more than 1 million visitors each day, according to TorrentFreak. In addition to European football, or soccer, leagues, FirstRow streams American football, basketball and ice hockey and more at the professional, semi-professional and college level. The Union of European Football Associations, Professional Golf Association European Tour and the Rugby Football Union all support the legal request submitted by The Premier League.
The judge granted the request to block IP addresses and domain names belonging to FirstRow sports despite the fact that the site doesn’t actually host any video streams. Instead, it aggregates streams from around the Internet, indexes them and provides a link to access an individual stream. High Court Judge Arnold ruled that this was enough to consider FirstRow Sports to be responsible for copyright infringement.
The judge also noted that FirstRow sports is used in sports bars and pubs to profit from unauthorized streams.
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“Premier League’s agents have discovered that FirstRow is being used by some public houses in the U.K. so as to show their customers broadcasts of Premier League matches, including during the Closed Period on a Saturday afternoon,” Judge Arnold said in his decision, referring to the period between 2:45 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. on Saturdays when Premier League forbids the live broadcast of English football matches.
Of course, this Closed Period is one reason why many fans turn to services like FirstRow Sports.
The Premier League estimated that FirstRow Sports generates between 5,360,680 pounds and 9,505,564 pounds (between U.S. $8,153,058 and $14,457,012) in advertising revenue every year. FirstRow Sports denies these figures, saying the amount is closer to 72,000 pounds per year (U.S. $109,504) without factoring in expensive server costs that can total as much as 4,000 pounds (U.S. $6,083) per month.
Opponents of the decision argue that there is nothing illegal about a third-party indexing content from other sites. They worry that High Court is overextending its authority. Blocking FirstRow Sports doesn’t actually do anything to remove the illegal streams.
Others say that FirstRow Sports provides a valuable service to the public, giving many people the only opportunity to see a game because they can’t afford a subscription or the game isn’t shown in their country.
“Sports belong to the fans, not to the greedy corporations that increase their profits every year,” the unnamed owner of FirstRow Sports told TorrentFreak.
Professional sports leagues disagree, but it might not matter in the end. When one site gets banned, a new one inevitably sprouts to take its place. FirstRow Sports could also follow the model established by The Pirate Bay and move to a server outside the High Court’s jurisdiction.