Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather aren’t the only ones preparing for a fight. So are HBO and Showtime, the respective pay-TV divisions of Time Warner and CBS, which are girding to prevent major piracy of a fight telecast that will cost up to $100 on pay-per-view.
Days before Saturday night's bout in Las Vegas, sites like BoxingHD.net and Sportship.org started advertising upcoming streams for the “Fight of the Century” on Facebook, triggering pre-emptive legal action from HBO and Showtime. The TV networks are awaiting action on a joint injunction request that would prevent the two sites from streaming video of the fight telecast.
“As content creators and distributors, we believe that combatting piracy and stopping content theft is crucial to maintain our ability to provide our customers with world-class programming like the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight,” a Showtime spokesman said, in a statement.
HBO and Showtime are, in effect, suing pirates for something they haven’t done yet. An injunction is a court order that aims to prevent damage by prohibiting an event before it occurs. Multiple intellectual property attorneys without connection to the HBO suit said, while “anticipated” violation injunctions aren't common in copyright, neither do they exist as a kind of "future-crime" like the kind described in science fiction.
'Minority Report' Exists
“'Minority Report' actually does exist in a civil context,” said Kavon Adli, founder of the Internet Law Group, referring to the 2002 Tom Cruise movie in which people can be arrested just for thinking about possible crimes.
Adli added that each court case involving piracy depends on the situation. “There's an ability to stop activity before it takes place as long as you can make a case showing there's some kind of irreparable harm that could be caused,” he said.
Other intellectual property attorneys suggested HBO would be successful in this case simply because it's unlikely that piracy site operators will try to defend themselves in court.
“I've never seen it, but if someone is announcing an intention to commit copyright infringement it's actually not futuristic,” said Ray Beckerman, a New York City attorney known for his battles with the Recording Industry Association of America.
With high prices and limited availability, the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight has all the ingredients to be a major piracy event no matter how many lawyers or technologies are thrown at it. In addition to the high price of pay-per-view, HBO and Showtime are charging bars $25 per viewer for public showings. (HBO already prevented one bar from hosting “Game of Thrones” viewing parties). Those prices, after years of building interest and an international audience, set the stage for a major piracy event.
Livestreaming services like Twitter’s newly launched Periscope and Web-based UStream create an immediate urgency for live events like Pacquiao-Mayweather. Media enforcers are able to contact pirate site operators within minutes of the start of their broadcast thanks to invisible watermark technology that reveals a stream’s source without a pirate’s knowledge.
Annoyances like this are nothing new for Ustream.tv. The popular streaming service was once synonymous with illegal streaming, only to prove provide streams for legitimate companies like Facebook and the UFC. But instead of watermarks, the company relies on a small team of employees to manually remove illicit broadcasters.
“We try to act very quickly and proactively on all in-bound requests,” Ustream CEO Brad Hunstable said. “Normally it’s as quick as 20 seconds but sometimes it’s a minute or two. A lot of the people who are doing this -- people see them as kids in a little room -- but they’re sophisticated groups who are doing this stuff.”
Total revenue for the fight is expected to surpass $400 million, Pacquiao's promoter Bob Arum previously told ESPN. Ticket sales for the fight have generated $74 million, more than three times the previous record, and broadcasters are expecting 3 million pay-per-view buys, bringing in $300 million in sales from the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada -- a boxing record.
Overseas television rights are expected to bring in another $35 million, with $10 million of that coming from Pacquiao's home country of the Philippines.
HBO and Showtime will split just 7.5 percent of the pay-per-view revenue.