The transmission of live events through video-streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat is raising concerns among rights holders. Advances in both legal and technological tools will be needed to effectively combat unauthorized transmissions.
Although people have been using smartphones to shoot videos they share on social media platforms for some time, live video-streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat are bringing live videos to mass audiences like never before. Since Meerkat emerged on the scene as the darling of the 2015 South by Southwest Interactive conference, the media and marketing communities have been buzzing over the potential and pitfalls of live video-streaming apps. That buzz reached a fever pitch in May when the highly anticipated boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao became the first high profile live sporting event to suffer a blow from rampant piracy on Meerkat and its competitor, Periscope.
To date, the reaction of copyright holders has been somewhat muted. Professional sports leagues seem to be divided – the National Hockey League has sought to limit the apps’ use, but Major League Baseball has indicated that it will not prohibit fans from using them. Journalist Stephanie Wei reported that her media credentials were revoked by the PGA Tour after using Periscope during a practice round at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship for the remainder of the season, while the National Football League allowed journalists to live stream the annual amateur draft.
The takedown procedures of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) are intended to provide tools to copyright owners to remove unauthorized exhibition of copyrighted content. But these tools may not be enough. The DMCA requires service providers to respond “expeditiously” to remove or disable access to allegedly infringing material. It is already a challenge for owners of substantial libraries to ask YouTube to remove a video of a pre-recorded concert, movie or television program that is tagged with YouTube’s Content ID system. However, it is a challenge of a completely different magnitude for a rights holder to ask Periscope or Meerkat to remove a streaming video of an event that is occurring at that very moment, which may have ended by the time the rights holder discovers the infringement or the app provider is able to comply. Periscope confirmed that it received 66 complaints of unauthorized streaming of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and removed 30 of them. The remaining streams had finished before Periscope was able to deal with them.
Some believe that the video-streaming experience is not compelling enough to lure audiences away from an entire sporting event in significant numbers. But it is important to remember that Periscope and Meerkat are still in their infancy, and it is not difficult to imagine that the user experience will dramatically improve over time. With improved cameras and higher resolution streaming, Periscope and Meerkat could easily find themselves right next to Netflix on connected flatscreen televisions.
Even if audiences are not ready to watch an entire live event via Periscope or Meerkat, there is still substantial harm from the loss of surge viewership. Casual fans may only tune in to a broadcast when something momentous is likely to happen – such as a pitcher going into the ninth inning with a perfect game, or a quarterback driving his team in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, or when a record is about to be broken. This surge of viewership can have a significant impact on overall audience levels for high profile events. Periscope and Meerkat, though, provide convenient opportunities for those casual fans to view an unauthorized stream of that momentous event, depriving the rights holder of that surge in viewership.
If Napster and its progeny have demonstrated anything, it is that an intellectual property protection strategy focused principally on enforcement is a losing proposition. The current legal tools for enforcing intellectual property rights can only provide limited remedies. It will be critical for rights holders to work closely with Meerkat and Periscope to develop technological tools to manage these risks. Even more importantly, rights holders must create a superior live streaming experience for audiences to enjoy. With more and better angles and closer access to the action, rights holders can give audiences a reason to seek them out, instead of the stream from the fan in the upper deck.
The Bottom Line
Existing legal tools provide only limited protection for rights holders, such as professional sports leagues, broadcasters and award show producers, against the threats posed by Periscope and Meerkat. As these apps continue to develop, rights holders will need to look to technological tools and develop more engaging video streaming content themselves to ensure their audience’s loyalty. Stay tuned.