7 January 2015 4 min read

Whether it was footage of Suarez having a nibble on the opposition or Germany thrashing Brazil, the social network ‘Vine’proved incredibly popular during the 2014 World Cup, with thousands of football videos being posted on the Internet in seconds.

Like the rarity of an England goal, the World Cup only comes around every 4 years. Yet as the new football season opened last week, the Premier League seem unwilling to regard ‘Vine’ as a fad, and have recently stated that they will clamp down on fans posting unofficial videos of goals online. Although The Premier League has stated to The Lawyer that they do not intend to sue individual fans, they plan to take any unofficial content offline. Director of Communications Dan Johnson said, “It is ultimately against the law…we have to protect our intellectual property”.

TV Rights

Although viewers can re-watch Premier League goals on TVs that allow pause and rewind functions, these are official TV rights; whereas the ability to upload a goal ‘Vine’ within seconds to the internet is not connected to any official distribution rights. In 2012, The Premier League viewing rights were sold to BT and BSKYB for a record of £3bn, giving both companies the rights to broadcast live Premier League games for the 13/14 and 15/16 seasons.

Considering the staggering amount paid for such rights, which was a 70% increase on the previous deal, it’s no surprise that The Premier League are unwilling to compromise – Vine, owned by Twitter, allows for six second looping videos that directly compete with the viewing product sold by BSkyB and BT, and it’s completely free.

Online Rights

Whilst weekends watching matches in front of the TV in the lounge or at the pub is pretty much a UK rite of passage, the growth of technology and Ecommerce is certainly present in football coverage. News International bought the online rights to Premier League for a reported £20m, allowing fans to subscribe to Sky+ for £8 per month. These services get goal footage online within 2 minutes of the ball hitting the net, yet ‘Vine’ does the same service within seconds and for free, potentially rendering any online rights worthless.

Déjà-vu?

As The Premier League have been known to protect their intellectual property rights fairly, previous litigation in this area may point the way for its outcome against ‘Vine’. In their case against landlady Karen Murphy and QC Leisure, The Premier League was told that restricting the importation of a Greek satellite decoder in order to find the cheapest medium by which to watch matches was contrary to EU Law. Yet, in a balancing act of the free movement of goods v intellectual property protection, the European Court also stated that The Premier League owned copyrighted works such as the anthem and the logo, which are embedded in the broadcasting of matches, therefore creating the potential for an infringement action in the ‘Vine’ issue.

Leave it alone

On the other hand, other previous litigation by The Premier League in this area could point to the outcome going a completely different way. As ‘Vine’ is rapidly increasing in popularity, recently boasting 40 million users as a 27 million-person increase in the past 2.5 months, there could be some very similar issues to that of The Premier League v YouTube litigation.

In 2007, The Premier League filed copyright infringement against YouTube, yet in 2013 they gave up. The judge stated that this class of action, being the posting of unauthorised footage of Premier League games, would create a ‘Frankenstein’ class of action that opens the floodgates to a massive number of potential claimants. Moreover, had the Premier League been successful, the ruling would have been likely to extend to clubs not being able to use YouTube as a promotional tool themselves as during the case they had been limited to ‘behind the scenes’ action, rather than match highlights.

If we apply this rationale to the ‘Vine’ issue, there are certainly some important parallels. Although ‘Vine’ is designed for personal footage, there are a huge number of TV, Film, Sport and Concert clips, therefore potentially creating another ‘Frankenstein’ class action. Moreover, given the increasing success and popularity of Vines, including famous ‘Vine stars’, it may be that football clubs want to create their own ‘Vine’ accounts, yet any legal success in this area by The Premier League may prohibit them from promoting their own material on their ‘Vine’ accounts.

Hybrid Legal are experts in intellectual property and can advise on a range of matters including trademarks, copyright issues, and licensing issues amongst others. To discuss your company’s intellectual property rights and how you can protect and retain them exclusively or license part of them to third parties’, do please get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you.

The contents of this article are intended solely for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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Jonathan Craddock

Jonathan graduated in LLB law from the University of the West of England in 2012. He then completed the Legal Practice Course in 2013 before working with some of Southampton’s top law firms.

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