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Field of Streams, Part 3

Field of Streams, Part 3

Television networks and leagues have yet to figure out exactly how to supply what people want -- at least for prices they're willing to pay. NFL fans can pony up for "Sunday Ticket," a package that offers myriad television and Internet options, but a full season costs more than $330. If you only really care about one team, like Chiefs fan Thompson, that's more than $20 per game -- a little steep, especially on Chinese wages.

By David Vranicar
08/04/11 5:00 AM PT

Field of Streams, Part 2

When ICE identifies a site that is violating copyright and/or intellectual property laws, it obtains a warrant from a United States court granting it the authority to seize the URL. At that point, ICE takes down the streams and throws up an intimidating warning that is overlaid on a red background with the word "SEIZED" written over and over. Case closed.

But it's not that simple. URLs are obtained though registries, such as Go Daddy or Register.com. When ICE wants to seize a domain, it must do so through the registries: It serves the registry, not the site owner, with a warrant.

Thing is, not all registries are in the U.S., and not all of them are subject to United States law. If a URL originated from a registry outside the U.S. government's jurisdiction, ICE does not have the authority to seize it.

This is how rojadirecta thrived despite having multiple URLs seized. Even if the .com and .net addresses disappeared, the alternate names -- which came from alternate registries -- remained untouchable.

Some countries are eager to collaborate with the United States on copyright enforcement. Others, not so much. Columbia, for instance, whose national registry issues URLs ending in ".co", is known for its adherence to copyright laws. Russia, on the other hand, has a relatively lawless national registry.

As Zero Paid editor Moya put it: "Good luck trying to seize an .ru domain!"

Laws in Translation

Along with proving how a website can avoid extinction by having multiple URLs, rojadirecta is also instructive when it comes to the subjectivity of copyright protection.

Rojadirecta is run out of La Corunna, Spain. Long before it was taken down, Spanish courts had already ruled that the site and its operator, Igor Seoane, were not in breach of copyright laws. There were a few nuances to the ruling, but the crux of the decision was that rojadirecta did not itself broadcast anything, but instead simply provided links to sites that did.

That ruling, however, was rendered irrelevant by ICE, which, warrant in tow, seized the two rojadirecta URLs within its jurisdiction.

Still, Seoane thinks he's in the right. In fact, he is suing the United States and the Department of Homeland Security to get the URLs back.

The Spanish court ruling -- which should have provided his client cover -- was disregarded by American authorities, said Ragesh Tangri, an attorney with the Durie Tangri, the firm representing Seoane.

"It's not an adversarial process," Tangri told TechNewsWorld. "They simply write up an affidavit from some sort of agent who works for ICE who is being assisted from someone from the content industry, and they then present that to a magistrate. No one else is notified, so no one else has a chance to explain anything to a judicial officer. The first that the property owner learns that their property has been taken by the government is when they see the page that says, 'This has been seized.'"

Plenty of Demand, Little Supply

There are some legitimate, legal ways to watch sports online. CBS is an industry leader with its free streams of the NCAA basketball tournament. And for a fee, Major League Baseball offers thousands of games in hi-def streams at MLB.com. ESPN, the NBA and the NFL have also entered the fray with quality, but pricier, options of their own.

TechNewsWorld's interview requests to each of these leagues and networks, as well as the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN, went unanswered.

But by and large, television networks and leagues have yet to figure out exactly how to supply what people want -- at least for prices they're willing to pay. NFL fans can pony up for "Sunday Ticket," a package that offers myriad television and Internet options, but a full season costs more than $330. If you only really care about one team, like Chiefs fan Thompson, that's more than $20 per game -- a little steep, especially on Chinese wages.

Thompson, by the way, is not an ideologue about paying. He has bought the MLB.com package multiple times, saying the price-per-game ratio was palatable, even if the Kansas City Royals' play wasn't.

Willing and Payable

Torrent Freak's Van der Sar is convinced that with the right product and the right price, people will pay.

"Most people want to pay," he said. "If it's a decent price then they're not really against paying. But right now, the offer is not there."

"Take the Super Bowl for example," he went on. "It wasn't aired on TV here in the Netherlands. If you could pay five euros and watch a three-hour show online, you would pay. You wouldn't go through these hoops and install these programs and watch low-quality streams. But it's not being offered."

Not officially, anyway. But unofficially? Well, it's a viewer's market.

The Super Bowl and just about every other sporting event you can imagine is available if you have three minutes to look around the Internet. And until the supply is amended to meet the demand, there is no amount of policing that American authorities can do to prevent people from logging on instead of tuning in. Not as long as fans like Thompson are holed up in China, coffee pots dripping away.


David Vranicar is an American-born journalist who, after a year in China, is currently living in Europe. He has written for a variety of publications, including Deadspin, The Copenhagen Post, The Kansas City Star and The Earth Times. When not trying to find intersections between the tech industry and the world at large, he is writing a book and tweeting @davidvranicar.


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