UFC Takes Justin.tv to Court Over Pirated MMA Streams

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is getting more serious about targeting illegal streams of its pay-per-view (PPV) events, announcing late Friday that it’s suing live streaming video provider Justin.tv for copyright infringement. The lawsuit was filed after several years of the mixed-martial arts (MMA) league complaining publicly about sites like Justin.tv enabling viewers to stream its events for free, but it also comes after UFC has used Justin.tv’s takedown tools.

At the heart of the lawsuit are potentially millions of dollars in pay-per-view revenues that UFC claims it has lost due to piracy of its live streams. The league’s PPV events, which it sells for about $50 each, are a large part of its business, and a part that it says live streaming sites like Justin.tv eat away at. For a single event last October, for instance, the UFC claims that more than 50,000 viewers tuned in to illegal streams of pay-per-view event UFC 121.

We haven’t gotten a chance to look at the complaint, but in its press release, but UFC parent company Zuffa LLC claims that although Justin.tv bills itself as a place for user-generated content, “the Justin.tv website is routinely exploited by users to broadcast illegally uploaded content, including UFC events.” The press release continues:

“Zuffa has attempted to work on numerous occasions with Justin.tv over nearly a two-year period to encourage it to prevent or limit its infringing activities,” Zuffa’s Las Vegas attorney, Donald J. Campbell said. “Regrettably, Justin.tv has not only turned a blind eye to the massive online piracy occurring on its website, we believe it has actually induced its users to commit copyright infringement thus leaving Zuffa no alternative but to take this fight to the courts.”

In an email, Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel responded to the press release by saying that it has been working with the UFC to enable the league to take down any illegal streams of its events. Seibel, who has yet to see the formal complaint that Zuffa filed, wrote that UFC has been using its automated DMCA takedown tool, as well as fingerprinting technology that it made available to content owners more than a year ago. Also, according to Seibel, on more than a dozen occasions Justin.tv employees have also spent nights and weekends on the phone with the UFC to help the league remove streams in real-time.

“While we don’t know their specific complaints we are confident in our policies and in our suite of copyright protection tools which are used by over 100 content owners worldwide,” Seibel wrote. In other words, not only should Justin.tv be protected by the DMCA’s safe harbor provision, but the UFC might have a difficult time making the argument that Justin.tv has turned a blind eye to infringing content when it says it’s been cooperating with the UFC to take down infringing streams.

This isn’t the first run-in that the UFC and Justin.tv have had over the years. The two both testified in front of a House Committee Hearing on live streaming piracy in late 2009. And last summer, the UFC demanded that live streaming sites Justin.tv and Ustream hand over the IP addresses of users that pirated its streams, but the lawsuit represents the most serious action that UFC has taken against a live streaming video firm.

We’ve reached out to the UFC for more information and will follow-up if we hear back.

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