Legal Take On Watching Blacked Out Game OnlineSeptember 27th, 2010
Thousands of local Bucs fans sat home yesterday and watched the Steelers-Bucs game via unscrupulous Internet feeds of the CBS-TV broadcast, which was not aired in the Tampa Bay area.
How can JoeBucsFan.com make this assertion?
Well, JoeBucsFan.com readers were polled Friday afternoon and asked how they would enjoy the game, which the NFL blacked out because the game did not sell out before the league deadline.
With more than 1,000 poll respondents, the No. 1 answer was “unlawful Internet stream” getting 35 percent of the vote. The No. 2 answer was “On TV outside the blackout zone” at 20 percent. “At the stadium” checked in third with 18 percent.
So is it illegal to watch the game online in your home?
That answer is unknown at this point, says Deanna Kendall Shullman, chair of the Media and Communications law committee of the Florida Bar. Shullman specializes in first amendment and media litigation, as well as intellectual property issues.
“I don’t know of any cases that the consumer is also responsible under a copyright theory for watching,” Shullman said. “I’ve never heard of a copyright claim in that particular instance.
“If I were looking at a news article on my computer or other copyrighted material, it’s likely that it is downloaded to my hard drive. That’s not violating any copyright that I know of. …There’s no, oh gotcha, you pulled it up.”
Shullman said if there were a copyright violation for consumer use it would not be criminal.
Criminal punishments for viewing child pornography online is covered under obscentity statutes.
As for bars that choose to profit from unlawful Internet feeds of blacked out games, the NFL likely is much more likely to crack down on them, Shullman said, versus attempting the difficult task of policing consumers.
The genius marketers ownership at O’Brien’s Irish Pub & Grill in Tampa told The Tampa Tribune they showed the game to their patrons but didn’t advertise it.
It’s not clear what type of trouble bars such as O’Brien’s could find themselves in, but the NFL doesn’t seem pleased that places are finding ways around blackouts.
“We protect our copyrighted game telecasts,” NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said in an e-mail. “The local blackout applies to these commercial establishments.
When we become aware of a violation, we alert our legal department, which will take action.”
Joe suspects O’Brien’s will soon get one of those fancy certified letters in the mail from the NFL.
Joe doesn’t judge those fans who watch the game online. However, Joe believes promoting these seedy Internet feeds is unethical and unlawful. So Joe does not permit posting of these websites in the comments section of JoeBucsFan.com.