Copyright Law on Streaming PPV Events

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Copyright Law on Streaming PPV Events

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

In recent years, social media sites and apps that allow users to broadcast live stream videos have grown in popularity. People can use YouTube, Facebook Live, Instagram, Periscope, and other tools to share video in real time. This capability makes it easy for users to share their lives with followers. However, it also increases the risk of copyright law violations, particularly when people use such live streaming tools to illegally broadcast pay-per-view (PPV) events for which viewers would otherwise have to pay separate fees to watch. Streaming a PPV event without authorization to do so violates federal copyright law.

Book entitled "Copyright Law" on a desk next to a pen and gavel

Copyright Law Basics

Copyright laws in the United States protect people's original creative works. When someone expresses ideas through written form, sounds, audiovisual media, and other means, whether published or not, they exclusively own the rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and profit from their work. U.S. copyright laws also allow people to bolster this protection of their rights against potential infringement through copyright registration.

In the context of a live musical performance, fight, sports contest, or other event for which a promoter intends to charge a fee to view, copyright law protects the promoter's presentation of the event. That means the promoter has the right to allow others to view or use the presentation or to prohibit such use.

Streaming Service Liability for Copyright Law Violations

Broadcasters who share live streams of PPV events without permission can face prosecution for copyright infringement. Service providers, including the online apps and channels used to transmit the illegal broadcast, can also be liable under certain circumstances.

However, recognizing that service providers are generally not willfully violating copyright laws, there is a defense against liability. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects providers such as YouTube from liability when users illegally stream PPV or other protected content through their services. In order to fall under these safe harbor provisions, the streaming service cannot have constructive knowledge of the infringement and must promptly respond to "take down" requests from copyright owners.

Risks for Those Who Illegally Stream PPV Events

It can be tempting to stream the latest PPV event or your favorite cable TV show without paying for it. After all, you get to watch the same content as those who bought tickets for the event. However, there are other risks to consider before deciding to tune into a free stream:

  • Poor quality. Illegal streams of PPV events are often poor quality, so you may lose your connection, have to sit through pop-up ads, lose audio or visual connectivity, and suffer other such annoyances.
  • Potential exposure to viruses. When you click on a link to view a live stream of a PPV event, you are putting your computer and your entire network at risk of viruses, spyware, or other malware.
  • Possible legal risk for viewers. It's not just the broadcaster of an illegal PPV stream who faces accountability: viewers could also face legal liability.

Streaming a PPV event without authorization violates U.S. copyright laws. Although today's technology enables people to broadcast whatever they want in real time, it is illegal to rebroadcast an event online without purchasing or otherwise obtaining the rights to do so.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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