Do not expect UFC to look the other when it comes to online piracy of its various pay-per-view events. Dana White, the company’s president, recently told the Vancouver Sun that he and the UFC will do whatever it takes to eliminate piracy. “It’s gonna cost us a lot of money, but guess what, it’s gonna cost them [pirates] a lot of money. It’s gonna get to the point where it’s like, fuck it, maybe we shouldn’t pirate MMA anymore.” This is not a very forward-thinking way of looking at the problem, no.
It was only a few weeks ago that I first made mention of UFC’s efforts against piracy. The gist of the argument was, just let it happen and concentrate on maintaining the company’s momentum. The UFC doesn’t want to end up like the music industry, having sued its fans into indifference, if not antagonism, toward its product. It seems to me that, in the interest of the greater good, the UFC should ignore the streams that pop up. The greater good, of course, being continued and long-term growth at the expense of short-term profit (or, worse, revenge, because the tone Dana White has here screams nothing if not vengeance.)
(Keep in mind that there’s no telling how many of these illegal streams are set up overseas where copyright laws are non-existent. There’s no telling how many of these streams are watched in countries where the local population has no other exposure to UFC, where they can’t buy an official stream for $10 per show. Why not let these people get a taste now, and in a few years’ time, when you’ve built up an international distribution infrastructure, come in and offer them legal ways of watching your content? Maybe hire Shane McMahon to figure that out? What, the ol’ “I didn’t pay for this before, so I’m not going to pay for it now?” song and dance? Those people aren’t your fans, nor will they ever be. Don’t worry about them.)
There’s a few more things to consider. The year 2009 was the company’s biggest grossing year on record, with a record 7.755 million PPV buys over the course of the year. That’s around $349 million in PPV revenue alone. Arguing that a couple hundred (or even thousand) people watching an illegal stream will ruin the company is a stretch at best. That number, $349 million, is likely to be the biggest number of any company of any sport on PPV ever, even bigger than boxing in its heyday (though boxing has been putting higher profile fights on plain ol’ HBO in order to grow an audience). There’s every reason to believe that 2010 will be even bigger, particularly if current UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar can get healthy. A fight between Lesnar and, say, Frank Mir would do extraordinary numbers on pay-per-view. That’s them up there, by the way.
Needless to say, the UFC is doing just fine.
This all started when the UFC filed suit against a Boston bar last week for showing an illegal live stream of the game. Yes: the bar literally hooked a laptop up to its TVs and had patrons watch that. Not only is that incredibly stupid on the bar’s part (the bar said that someone had set it up without its knowledge, which is incredibly difficult to believe), but, really, who wants to see an Internet live stream blown up onto a TV? It must have looked horrible. UFC wants $640,000 in damages. I hope it gets every single penny.
UFC plans to combat the scourge of live streams by sending subpoenas to Web sites that ask for every single IP address that connected to the stream. Then UFC would go after those IP addresses, just like the RIAA did back in the day. Never mind that I (or anyone with a modicum of tech-savvy) could spoof my IP address with my hands tied behind my back. Never mind that people could just connect to the stream using any number of anonymizers. And what if you live in an apartment building with a bunch of open Wi-Fi access points, or, just as bad, encrypted only with WEP? A ne’er-do-well could hide his identity any number of ways. An IP address is not someone’s unique genetic code, so let’s stop pretending it is.
Then think of the possible backlash. For all the money UFC is going to spend in and around the legal system by going after alleged pirates—and how long would we have to wait till it sues a single mother with three children, the oldest of whom connected to a stream for a moment just to see what all the fuss was about?—does the cost-to-benefit analysis work out? Maybe it does, I don’t know.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m defending the streams, I’m merely saying that it seems crazy to me to risk becoming the RIAA of this decade in order to prove a point. The UFC has every right to go after people who pirate its content, but it really ought to think about wether or not it’s even worth the trouble. Lawsuits didn’t eliminate music piracy. No, it was the proliferation of easy-to-use, legal alternatives (initially iTunes several years ago, and now things like the Zune Pass and Spotifiy and Pandora) that marginalized music piracy.
Suing everyone under the sun is not a method I would recommend to companies that are looking to grow.
Much of the background info via The Wrestling Observer Newsletter