After years of focusing on the pirating of highlight clips and photos on the Web, the major professional sports leagues are finding that pirated feeds of live games are now common and becoming a menace to their businesses, especially at a time when leagues are trying to build their own businesses offering live games on the Internet for a subscription fee.
“We never felt that the jewel in our crown, the live games, would be vulnerable,” said Ayala Deutsch, senior vice president and chief intellectual property counsel at the National Basketball Association.
According to the article, live broadcasts are recorded by US residents on PC tuner cards, and are then sent to Chinese sites like TVants.com (which I can't seem to access now), from which they can be viewed worldwide -- without paying league subscription fees. David Price of the anti-piracy consulting firm Envisional makes the smart point that the danger to the leagues is particularly acute, since live-broadcast rights represent a large percentage of revenues, which can't be made up in later windows or ancillary markets:
I think it’s different than looking at movies or music. You might not go to the cinema, but you’ll buy the DVD. With sports, they very much have this one shot to get you to watch the game. If suddenly there is a way to get that live transmission for free, then there is a real threat to their business.
The article claims that the NFL has "disabled several hundred sites" broadcasting pirated live streams. I have a very hard time believing that. As I learned in my years as an antipiracy attorney, it is exceedingly difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to "disable" a single site, even a blatanly infringing one, let alone several hundred. And China, where many of these sports-piracy sites apparently operate, barely lifts a finger to combat infringement -- particularly where the complaining copyright owner isn't Chinese.
The article quotes an MLB exec's claiming that game piracy is "embryonic, [and] it’s not widespread." Maybe, but I suspect this problem is going to get a whole lot worse.