UFC has continued its fight against copyright infringement by filing a lawsuit against Justin.tv, the video streaming Web site where, UFC alleges, people can watch its events for free. UFC takes issue with “Justin.tv’s repeated and ongoing failure to meaningfully address the rampant and illegal uploading of video of live Pay-Per-View UFC events by members and users of the Justin.tv website.” UFC had previously subpoenaed Justin.tv (and Ustream) for the names of people who had streamed events illegally.
Everyone is in a tough spot here. Clearly UFC is well within its rights to go after people who illegally stream its events—a bar in Boston was actually dumb enough to publicly display an illegal stream last year, so UFC sued ‘em—but it would do well not to follow the exact path that the music industry followed, suing everyone under the sun in order get its way. Again, it has every right to do so, but I’m not so sure that it’s the best way to go about doing things.
Justin.tv can do but so much, too. It can have extra staff patrolling the site on nights when there are UFC events, and that staff can take these streams down as they find them, but the truth of the matter is that they’ll come right back in an endless game of whack-a-mole. I have a hard time believing Justin.tv executives are sitting there ignoring UFC streams, or even tacitly approving of their presence. That’s a surefire way to be sued out of existence.
As a fan of the sport, I do think there’s more UFC could to do combat piracy other than suing Companies A through Z. UFC’s already doing a pretty decent job of embracing alternative distribution methods—you can watch UFC events on Roku and your iPhone, for example—but there’s still room for improvement. You can purchase streams of events at UFC.com, but the price, $45, is on the steep side. Surely we’re not going to pretend that watching an Internet stream is as satisfying an experience as sitting in front of a 60-inch HDTV, even if you’re savvy enough to know how to connect your computer to said HDTV via an HDMI cable. A cable or satellite PPV will never buffer or choke up because your roommate decides to fire up BitTorrent.
I don’t see why a company like Ring of Honor or Dragon Gate USA can offer full pay-per-view events on a site like GoFightLive.tv for $15 a pop while UFC wants $45. (I also don’t understand why I still have to pay $10 extra for the HD version of UFC events on DirecTV—who still watches sports in standard definition in 2011?— but that’s a complaint for another day.)
More than anything else, these lawsuits are the product of the transitional age we’ve entered. Internet streaming of video is getting there, but raise your hand if you’re prepared to throw out your collection of Blu-ray discs in favor of something like Netflix. (I’m still shocked that people will voluntarily watch Netflix streams of movies—why not break out a VHS copy of the movie? It looks just as good.) UFC going after streaming sites like Justin.tv may help fight copyright infringement in the short term, but that doesn’t even address other forms of streaming, such as peer-to-peer streaming—to say nothing of people downloading Pay-Per-View events after they’ve aired.
Again, this is a very tricky situation for all parties, and I’m not sure there’s any simple solution to be found.