Is it illegal to stream live football matches on the internet?

Football and the internet

The internet can be an invaluable tool for football clubs and fans alike, providing as it does a wealth of information about the sport and promotional opportunities for football clubs, leagues and associations. However, although live streaming of football matches online might be greeted enthusiastically by fans, it may not be so welcome to clubs and leagues who can lose valuable revenue in this way.

Live football matches online

The internet is certainly a viable medium for showing football matches. For example, one of the England national team’s World Cup qualifying matches in 2009 was only available in the UK online.

This was legal as the Football Association (the rights holder for the England national team) had sold the official broadcast rights to a specific website, rather than providing them to a television broadcaster.

However, it is when the rights to football matches having been sold exclusively to another platform, such as television, but are subsequently shown as live streams over the internet that issues arise.

How can live football matches be shown over the internet?

Currently, many peer to peer websites enable users to view Premier League football matches live over the internet free of charge. Any site that “makes available or facilitates the availability” of rights-owners’ content without their permission is unlawful. It also infringes on a football league’s ability to sell the rights to television.

If games are shown on the internet, the television rights will still be broadcast solely by one television broadcaster who owns the rights, but if the games are also available over the internet this weakens the rights. If a television company cannot be guaranteed the exclusivity of matches which they have paid for, they will be more reluctant to pay for these rights next time. This means the Premier League will not be able to make as much income from selling the rights to broadcast the live matches.

Interests of consumers v rights of the Premier League and TV broadcasters

Being able to watch football matches live over the internet is a great advantage for the football fan who is unable to afford to pay the subscription fees required to watch live football on TV.

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For more information on:

  • What other effects will this have on the football world?
  • What can football authorities do to prevent football matches being streamed?
  • Would it be more appropriate to take direct legal action against the site?
  • Will I be prosecuted for watching football matches online in this way?