To stream or not to stream? The legal issues around livestreaming sports and culture events

Live streaming video is a growing trend and seems only set to continue to grow over the coming years. It is seen as offering a real, authentic inter-human connection (Tang, 2016) as well as offering an alternative to traditional media outlets. With the rise of streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat and the big players of Facebook, YouTube and Instagram now offering live streaming possibilities, content is easier for the creator to produce whilst increasingly more accessible for the viewer[1].

This rise in live streaming technology is also revolutionising how live sports and cultural events are transmitted (Kariyawasam, 2016). Whilst fostering the creation of clusters of communities centred around a topic of interest (Tang, 2016), this new technology comes with a new set of legal issues, predominately around copyright[2]. With the potential to shift the power dynamic of who owns the footage and transmission of live sports and culture events, current rightsholders who shovel billions into the sports industry every year to have the exclusive rights of covering an event, face unprecedented challenges.

Fans can now instantly share live streams of sporting events across the globe to viewers for free, which can cause major issues not only for existing rightsholders but also the companies behind the streaming platforms, leaving them in murky waters legally. This has proven costly to live streaming service Ustream when they were sued by a boxing promoter for an alleged “massive and blatant copyright infringement” for allowing over 2,000 users to view a pay-per-view boxing match for free[3].

Some commentators have suggested this could prove to be a big problem for the sporting industry, costing teams billions with the loss of revenue if people move to alternative media to watch sporting events. Comparisons have been made to the legal case surrounding Napster, a platform created in 1999 which allowed people to share copyrighted audio files for free. This service was shut down two years later due to a court injunction[4]. Could live video streaming platforms suffer the same fate?

In the meantime, sporting venues must deal with the complexities surrounding the issue of copyright infringement and the rapidly changing way we view and create video. As new services are making it even easier for us to stream video and share content online, and with widespread accessibility to smartphones coupled with the availability of high-speed internet, it is going to become ever the more difficult to police live streaming at events.

In the UK people have the right to film in public, and providing it’s not for commercial gain, distribute that content (or stream it live) on the internet. However, if a video contains copyrighted material, the publisher could become liable under intellectual property law[5]. This raises questions around what is public and where and when people have the right to film. For example, would filming a live music event in a public park a copyright infringement?

These laws were written before people had the ability to broadcast videos from mobile phones and this is where the ambiguity around the legality of live streams lie. Livestreaming is therefore just another example of the law struggling to keep up with the pace of change in technology, and raises problems not only to do with copyright, but across all legal issues where the internet and technology intersect with the law.


Kanchana Kariyawasam & Matthew Tsai (2017) Copyright and live streaming of sports broadcasting, International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 31:3, 265-288, DOI: 10.1080/13600869.2017.1299553

C. Tang, G Venolia & K. M. Inkpen (2016) Meerkat and Periscope: I Stream, You Stream, Apps Stream for Live Streams CHI ’16Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Pages 4770-4780






Author: Bobbie Bailey

One response to “To stream or not to stream? The legal issues around livestreaming sports and culture events”

  1. Matt Wood says:

    Interesting stuff Bobbie, I liked how you focused specifically on Livestreaming as a form of social computing, and linked this with changing cultures around the streaming of live events. I believe Schofield, Bartindale & Wright talk about bootlegging from artists’ perspectives in Bootlegger – and that although streaming does come with some copyright concerns, they are primarily concerned about the quality of the recording. Although copyright is an aspect to consider, this interjects with many more complex issues – at the moment your argument seems to apply more to a legal audience than a HCI one. It might take a bit more work to make these legal arguments more applicable to a HCI audience – indeed many might be critical of copyright law in of itself! Also be a bit wary when referencing news articles, this is appropriate when referencing examples in the media (boxing, napster), but when referencing ideas and concepts it’s stronger to cite a more academic source. Try to be consistent with referencing – either (names, dates) or numbers. But you do well to unpack further issues around the topic – well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *