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Intellectual Property

Protecting pay-per-view: before the event

In part one of a two-part series, Toronto intellectual property lawyer Kevin Fisher discusses why there's a need to protect pay-per-view rightsholders. 

Anti-piracy enforcement for pay-per-view (PPV) sporting events presents unique challenges for rightsholders and their counsel, Toronto intellectual property lawyer Kevin Fisher tells

Fisher, a partner with Gardiner Roberts LLP, acts for the company that holds commercial rights for two of the biggest PPV events in history — last year’s boxing match between unbeaten world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather and outspoken mixed-martial artist Conor McGregor, followed by McGregor’s return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship for his controversial defeat by Russian fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“These events — particularly the Mayweather-McGregor one — had such broad appeal that people were having parties and staging events around the televised fight,” Fisher says. “There are always going to be people trying to get away without paying, whether it’s at the residential end by privately using pirated feeds, or in the commercial environment, where an establishment is charging for a public display without the necessary licence.”  

Fisher explains that his "carrot and stick approach" to combating piracy of these and similar shows actually begins way in advance of the event.

In the lead-up to the most recent fight, he says his focus was mainly on informing restaurants, bars and other commercial establishments about their legal responsibilities.

Anyone who wanted to hold such an event could purchase a licence to exhibit the fight, enabling them to advertise their own events and charge an entrance fee.    

“Most operators are aware that they need that kind of licence if they’re promoting events for commercial purposes,” Fisher says.

One of the challenges for Fisher and his clients is that they are frequently cast as the bad guys in enforcement stories thanks to the general public’s attitude toward piracy, which he says is generally regarded as a victimless crime.

“People think this is just a big bad broadcaster coming down on the little guy, but what they fail to recognize is that there are many people and businesses who have paid for the right to legitimately hold these events and whose market is being drained by illegal operators,” Fisher says. “They have made a business investment with the expectation that they can charge people for entry and recover that cost. But if others are allowed to do the same thing for free, then it interferes with their rights.

“We’re constantly trying to get people to understand that the harm has a much bigger impact than a few dollars lost to whichever broadcaster is involved,” he adds.

As the big day approaches, the focus turns from education to enforcement, with Fisher's clients dispatching teams of private investigators to hundreds of events across the country to obtain video evidence of any violations by non-subscribing establishments.

“It’s a significant undertaking for us,” he says.

Previous experience also forms the basis for injunction requests against known repeat offenders to prevent them from showing the event illegally.

Stay tuned for part two, where Fisher will explore what happens during and after a pay-per-view event.

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