Legal Take On Watching Blacked Out Game Online

September 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 make this assertion?

Well, 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

53 Responses to “Legal Take On Watching Blacked Out Game Online”

  1. nick Says:

    Does anyone have the link to the replay of the game? Since the game was a blackout they replay it, correct? I can’t find it, someone had to give me the link on the Browns game too.

  2. Jonny Says:

    I do not live in FL and I will gladly watch these streams that are free.

    I think promoting these seedy internet feeds is ethical. Long live those men that have created those websites and are provided us with links to the game.

  3. Joe Says:


    Go to “Game Rewind.”

  4. Mike Williams for MVP Says:


    Here you go. I hope this ok Joe, i am new and don’t want to post an illegal link.

  5. Michael B Says:

    For those thinking about Game Rewind, note that it’s a paid service, not a free replay of the game.

    I honestly don’t know why the NFL doesn’t do what MLB does and have smartphone apps and web services that allow you to listen to the game and watch live updates for one price, and add another tier for video. I understand MLB plays far more games, but I know I’d gladly pay for an iPhone app that would allow me to listen to the WDAE play-by-play, whether I attend the game or watch it from somewhere else.

  6. Jeff Says:

    I just love sticking to “the man” at his own game. Long live pirated streams!

  7. Michael B Says:

    And I stand corrected, seems you may be able to watch a blacked out game? I know for the full service it costs money.

  8. Joe Says:

    Michael B:

    Correct and incorrect.

    Game Rewind is a paid service except for a 72-hour window for people living in a home market of a blacked out game.

  9. D-Rome Says:

    “Joe believes promoting these seedy Internet feeds is unethical and unlawful.”

    Unethical? Sure you can argue that. Unlawful? Ummmm…are you a lawyer?

  10. loweredexpectations Says:

    “Joe doesn’t judge those fans who watch the game online. However, Joe believes promoting these seedy Internet feeds is unethical and unlawful.”

    clearly you do joe.

  11. ShortyBuc Says:

    Lotta people stream these games online..its how we got to watch world cup games..I think the only thing to be careful of is that hackers can get to you through adobe flash player or these other video means…so that would be one downside to it and one reason to have good security on your computers

  12. eric Says:

    Hey Glazer Boys, did you ever have any blackouts during the Jon Gruden era?



  13. admin Says:

    Loweredexpectations – You couldn’t be more wrong. Joe has never preached to anyone what to do, or what is right and wrong for their personal consumption of these games. Joe couldn’t care less …Joe only has been policing those who want to publish the sites streaming the games in the comments here. Joe’s not interested in the NFL coming down on him. Ultimately, it’s Joe who is responsible for what is on these pages, not the anonymous posters who participate.

  14. Mike Williams for MVP Says:

    Can’t argue with you there Eric. But then again, they did ‘”Buy” all the unsold tickets, and who knows how long they were doing that for.

  15. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Illegal to watch a free access program on CBS?

    I think not! We’re not talking about a PPV event or a first run movie.

    Just because you live in a specified geographical area means that local affliate isn’t playing the feed.

  16. Jerry Says:

    The games are the property of the NFL. The NFL has the right to decide who gets to broadcast them and where.

  17. Theodore Says:

    Joe – It is not unlawful. The game is being broadcast for free on CBS. The blackout rule is a contract between the NFL and local television affiliates, consumers are under no obligation to honor that contract. If it’s not illegal for consumers to watch CBS on TV, it’s not illegal for consumers to watch CBS on the internet.

  18. fernando Says:

    I know from past experience when I worked in Las Vegas O’Briens will get a Fancy Letter from the NFL. Not smart on the owners part.

  19. Jerry Says:

    Theodore… The NFL does not agree with you…

    From the article…
    “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.”

  20. Hawaiian Buc Says:

    @ Eric

    Come on man, Gruden is not coming back. It’s over dude, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You were by your own accounts “halfway on the bandwagon” and you let one loss to a Super Bowl contender kick you back off? So if you are a “Super Bowl or bust” kind of a fan, why exactly are you such a big Gruden fan anyway? Besides his first year, did you ever think we were a serious threat to win the trophy? If you don’t think we look tremendously better than last year then you are obviously not watching the games. It’s not going to happen overnight, but one bad loss is not the end of the world. Try to practice a little patience.

  21. Pete Dutcher Says:

    This is pretty much what I said the other day. I was told then I was wrong…or at least hinted to that it was wrong:

  22. admin Says:

    Pete – Nobody said you were wrong regarding the legality of watching online. Joe did this story to try to answer a hot question of the month. It’s not a clear answer. There surely is technology in place for the NFL to potentially crack down on the end user. Some states might even help them.

  23. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Go ahead NFL – keep enforcing those blackout rules; all it will do is result in more people going to alternative sources. Didn’t you learn from the record industry and Napster?

    All it takes is a person, outside the zone, broadcasting the CBS over the net. And as for other sites outside the USA – there is NOTHING you can do.

  24. Mr. Lucky Says:

    hey Joe there is also technology in place to foil the NFL from detecting the end user as well. I think the NFL has more to worry about than people watching online, can you say CBA?

  25. Pete Dutcher Says:

    @admin (Joe)
    You are right…bad moment of touchiness for me 😉

  26. BigMacAttack Says:

    Props 2 Times:

    that was funny, as usual.

    we’ve gone from zero, to negative, to lowered, and that is funny, so good job with that part of it.

    As for blackouts: I don’t like fracturing laws or rules that I don’t know what the consequences or penalties are. This is one of those cases. It may be nothing, but it could be severe, who knows. This is one time where it might be wise to avoid the Gray Area, because in battle the army with the most money generally wins, and the NFL has a lot. I would not like to be in their cross-hairs. Mr Obrien chose poorly, and then told the media. Not too bright. The internet leaves a trail of everything. If you’re gonna stream it, do it at a friends house, and offer to bring the beer. It could be cheaper in the long run, and less mess.

  27. Jeb Says:

    Joe is just trying to push his blackout tour. If you watch it on the net, no profit from the blackout tour. Come on Joe, your better than that.

  28. Pruritis Ani Says:

    I m not a lawyer but under the definition of “Broadcast” it appears that it only applies to television or radio. If you would apply the definition under the strictest sense, it appears there is a loophole. Putting my conspiratorialist hat on, I think the powers at be know that as I just did a basic search for news going back 10 years, and I could find no instances where anyone was prosecuted for “watching an event” on the internet. Songs yes, but not for games, events, etc. I imagine there will be a rush make a few new laws to keep this from happening. The problem is how will you enforce it?

  29. Bucallday Says:

    Im not gonna say the name but the bar im always at on sunday in tarpon springs played both the browns and the steelers game.Love it! Screw the nfl with there blackout rule.

  30. admin Says:

    Joe here,

    Jeb, that’s got to be the most foolish comment of the week. Congratulations. This post has nothing to do with promoting the Blackout Tour. And if you think the Blackout Tour is a some sort of profit center, Joe suggests you go price a 29-seat luxury bus for 9 hours and 180 miles roundtrip and do the math. … Joe offers the Blackout Tour as a way for Bucs fans to have an affordable time watching a blacked out game with fellow fans. And it gives Joe a chance to give some love to his sponsor, Paradise Worldwide Transportation.

  31. eric Says:

    When is that trophy winning stuff kicking in again?

    Did anyone even watch the last game?

    Are you people all on drugs?

  32. kyle Says:

    I live in Colorado so the only way for me to watch Bucs games is via the internet…Thank you Al Gore you’re super awesome

  33. Atrain WD40 Says:

    Way to be objective Joe ” via unscrupulous Internet feeds of the CBS-TV broadcast” I live in Spring hill only have 1 car which was with my wife at work. I can barely pay my bills and you think i should either Pay hundreds to go to the stadium or travel 70-100 miles to so you can give some love to your sponsor? Without the internet I would not be able to see the games. I have over four hundred Buc Auto’s Several jerseys and work two jobs to pay my motgage. I have been to over a hundred Buc games since ’83. Get off your high horse and quit judging those who do what they have to!

  34. admin Says:

    Joe here,

    Look, Atrain, it IS an illegal feed. Everyone knows it. So you’re all pissed off that Joe wrote about it. Get real. …Not anywhere, anywhere, will you find Joe judging anybody who is watching the game online. Joe couldn’t give a crap. Period.

    Learn how to read before you start spewing a bunch of garbage.

  35. Richie Says:

    Frankly, I think you should get some love Joe for actually doing the research here. I know I was curious whether someone could knock on my door or confiscate my laptop one day. You haven’t judged anyone. People just want to hate. Makes some people feel good.

  36. Atrain WD40 Says:

    Ok Joe What law/regulation/statute is being broken? And when you throw in “unscrupulous” you made a judgement about everyone who watched the feed regardless of status or cituation. You openly insrert that no law may have been broken by adding Deanna Kendall Shullmans’ quote. And we already know you don’t care especially when a responder does not agree with your opinion.

  37. admin Says:

    Joe here,

    This is the opening paragraph, “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.”

    The feeds come from websites that do not have permission from the NFL to air the game online. So the feed is “unscrupulous” because it violates the NFL’s copyright, which is announced and put on the screen during every broadcast. Every fan has heard it for decades. “Any use of this broadcast without the express written consent of the National Football League is prohibited.”

    No, using the word “unscrupulous” makes NO judgement of those watching it. It refers to the feed specifically. You can spin it anyway you want, it’s just not accurate to claim that Joe is judging those watching online via one of these sites.. …We’ve all probably watched videos on YouTube without ever knowing if the person or entity owning the copyright has given permission to stick it up there.

    Feel free to continue making up stuff that Joe’s thinking or saying. But Joe must respond when it’s inaccurate. And you are inaccurate.

  38. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Joe – you know I love you man – but in your article you wrote: Criminal punishments for viewing child pornography online is covered under obscentity statutes.”

    Why was that even in there? Child porn is illegal – PERIOD. Watching NFL games isn’t illegal and when you have that one paragraph in your article it gives the reader the impression of being judgemental.

    Perception is reality….

  39. Theodore Says:

    Joe and others – You are misconstruing copyright law. In fact, copyright law explicitly gives small businesses the right to rebroadcast “television programming”.

    Again, neither us nor local bars signed any contract with the NFL, there is no obligation to follow their blackout rule. Just because the NFL says they can’t doesn’t mean anything, they are not above copyright law. For local bars, one problem is that the rebroadcast of the game is their main source of revenue for that time period (unlike say, just having the channel tuned to ESPN), so yes that can be a legal problem. But simply saying you can’t do it because it’s “copyrighted” has little bearing because the copyrighted material is available for free, no one is reselling it, and the law explicitly says you can.

  40. MattBucfanSRQ Says:

    It sounds like Joe is not in the best interests of any Buccaneers fan..

    I would assume the majority of readers on this site are “die hard” fans. These same fans will find any means possible to get the game.

    Joe sounds like he represents the best interests of the NFL..

    Hey Joe, when you contacted Ms Shullman did you give her the results of your poll along with establishments you found in violation of the Black out??

  41. Javier n Wimauma Says:

    Think Joe was referring that that internet behavior, even in passive form, is illegal. So, that is about as close you can get to the illegalities I suppose.

    Someone else mentioned Napster… see it is illegal to ‘download’ music… but it isn’t enforced that people can’t stream music… too hard. You Tube any music artist an you will see.

    So streaming a football game can’t be illegal… its in a passive form. If it were illegal the NFL would hav made a clear and resounding statement by now. They haven’t. They want people to watch the games. The tradeoff is that the quality is poor and not of HD.

    It ain’t wrong one iota. I mean how do you police users passively watching stream on a forgien website??? You would have to hack into that website, hack into the database and grab all the IP addresses. Then go after each IP address. Yeah, OK, that’s really gonna happen. Either that or convince the cable company to spy on their internet users and hand over all users who visit certain websites. Yeah, cable and the NFL are big friends right about now.

    Truth is, the only thing they can do is go after the host, hosting the site. And from what I have seen, those websites are merely hubs… the NFL would have to then track down the IP addresses all over the world from that source… or just have the host government/foriegn internet provider step in and shut the site down.

    Good luck with all that. I mean the NFL has two major priorities as it is, the Labor Agreement in which they will have plenty of issues with AND getting tye NFL Network on cable TV. Then maybe tge cable providers here could step in and block those host websites.

    NFL, Pigs get slaughtered!

  42. Joe Says:


    Joe will offer his PayPal account so you can fund Joe’s legal fees when the NFL comes after Joe for promoting illegally transmitted steams of Bucs blacked out games.

    Joe doesn’t have the budget to have high profile legal teams on retainer like the St. Petersburg Times or Media General, to name a few.

    Of course, you can always start your own blog and link to all of these underground feeds to your heart’s content. The only establishment Joe knows of was the one highlighted in the Tampa Tribune and on WFLA-TV. Maybe you missed it, but Joe’s a little busy on game days than to hunt for bars with the pirated feeds.

    These feeds can be easily found by using Google. So this notion that Joe is somehow depriving people of watching the game is simply ridiculous.

    Joe doesn’t offer the addresses and numbers of local pot salesmen nor the best hookers in Tampa either. As a result, Joe isn’t depriving anyone from getting high or laid.

  43. Joe Says:

    Mr. Lucky:

    People seem to forget that the broadcast of an NFL game is not the public’s property because it is broadcast on the public airwaves. Those are authorized broadcasts by the NFL. To obtain authorization, one has to cut a check. A mighty big check in fact.

    This disclaimer is broadcast on every NFL game.

    Joe was discussing this very point about child porn and watching unauthorized NFL games with various members of the local fourth estate Sunday. No one knew, which is one of the reasons Joe wrote the story.

  44. Joe Says:

    Javier n Wimauma:

    Real smart. You just got yourself banned.

    Say hello to Radio Mushmouth. He got bounced for the very same thing.

    Anyone else want to play games and try to post those URLs in code, feel free. Just be prepared to suffer the consequences.

  45. Jonny Says:

    Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe, I love you man. Thanks for banning two of the WORST posters on this website. I hope you ban another one, you know who it is.

  46. Joe Says:


    Joe takes no pride or joy in bouncing loyal readers. Radio Mushmouth has been with Joe since the early days and Joe may let him return (after the season), despite how he threatened Joe and that he did his best to run off Steve White.

    Javier should have known better. He tried to get around Joe’s implicit instructions not to post the URLs of these sites — Joe could care less if anyone watched NFL football on these sites 24/7, Joe’s just not going to put up with the hassles of promoting said sites. It’s not worth it to Joe.

    Joe got rid of Radio Mushmouth for putting those URLs in code, just like Javier did. Therefore, like Radio Mushmouth, so too did Javier have to go.

  47. Matt Says:

    A lot of discussion here, but let’s be clear: This is not a battle the NFL will win. And I think they are smart enough to not even try.

    It was just a matter of time before the NFL succumbed what the RIAA, MPAA, and various other organizations have been dealing with for a decade. I’m actually shocked that it took this long. I’m even more shocked that these games aren’t easily available in a quality 720p download like movies and TV shows are.

    The NFL will go after the public places like bars that show their broadcast to a group, but they will in no way win (and most likely not even fight) the multitude of websites who offer the streams. It’s a battle they just can’t win.

  48. Capt.Tim Says:

    Joe, now that he’s banned( trumpets, cheering, etc.), can you tell us if Javier was actually Rahdomdabest? Really curious? Thanks, Joe. As always, because if you, this is the best Football site in the damned world!! Keep it up, we appreciate you . And Jonny is right- site improved without Javier and Mushy!!

  49. eric Says:

    The NFL once sued a Church for showing the Super Bowl on a t.v. over 55″.

    Not folks you wanna mess with.

    This internet feed law is still developing, but rest assured the big boys will come out on top.

  50. BigMacAttack Says:

    I know of one bar in Sarasota that showed it too. I saw the sign up driving home from the game. My guess is that there will be a multitude of bars showing the Saints’ game blackout, pushing the envelope. Hopefully the NFL won’t push back, but I bet they will. I also agree with Steve Duemig (1’st time) that the Stadium was the most packed it has been in years. They said 4K seats unsold, but that is a lie. I would guess several hundred, maybe, and those were club seats that don’t really count.

    The real question is: Why not show the game? They could have televised it for sure without having to buy all those seats at $.34 ea. It was only a handful empty. Something stinks here, because no way this game should have been blacked out. Somebody is playing games with us. I can buy the no free agents, or the lowest payroll, low cost Coach & GM, but this one one “I ain’t buying”. This one really stinks and the Glazers or the NFL need to own up to it. I hope the Big Dog and Florio air it out today. Somebody in Tampa is a “Big Fat Liar”.

  51. Matt Says:

    @eric “This internet feed law is still developing, but rest assured the big boys will come out on top.”

    They may be successful in punishing those who show the feeds to audiences, but there is little to no chance of them successfully removing all of the feeds of the game from the Internet.

  52. Denny Gay Says:

    Go for it NFL….SHut down that sorry Steelers bar…I don’t care who they are and who it hurts, if it hurts some moron steeler fan then i’m all for it….CLose down the Steeler bar…loosers

  53. Miguel Grande Says:

    CYA, Joe, CYA