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Taking On The Authorities



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Last Sunday (21 Oct 07), 101 Great Goals published an article where they talked about the arrest of a 26-yr-old man and the closure of the popular TV / Movie directory, tv.links.co.uk. The move, touted as a victory against copyright theft, has shaken many similar service providers, including the owners of 101 GG.

The battle against copyright theft (and the subsequent debate on what constitutes copyright theft) is not going away, and it’s going to get a lot worse. The fact that website owners are now scared is just the first step – they’ve already made big strides in this regard in the US and with the UK now in their sites, it’s only a matter of time before more arrests happen and more sites are taken down.

The right and wrong of this has been (and will be) debated elsewhere – on Soccerlens and on countless blogs on the Internet. What I want to look at is how to protect the interests of football fans, which in this case involves unrestricted access to football video clips.

Incidentally, popular torrent site isohunt.com is fighting a lawsuit in the US, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get taken down eventually. No free tv shows, games or movies? What nonsense! 🙂

I don’t think 101 Great Goals will suffer the same fate as the guy from TV Links – there’s a distinct difference between running a links directory and running a blog on football. As long as the guys at 101 GG can increase their non-video coverage and tie in the videos with more detailed match reports. They’ve been the target of NetResults before and I’m sure they’re aware of how to cover their asses. I hope they do as much as they can to expand their coverage and try to make a strong case for themselves (namely that they’re not JUST a directory). You can claim whatever you want, but their brand is build strongly around the video links and to survive, they need to evolve.

There are other things that can help you avoid getting arrested / shut down – living in a third world country (or at least having your site owned by someone not living in the ‘West’) and hosting your website with a company that is based somewhere other than North America / Europe. These aren’t factors that will ‘save’ you, but they do count in your favor.

Eventually though, you can run but you can’t hide. That’s precisely why we, as users, must look to face the establishment and take them on instead of just running and covering our asses. While legally they might be within their rights, I’m not a fan of a) going after and hurting your main consumer base (in this case, the fans) and b) the establishment being the playground bully.

101 GG points to the Guardian and Times Online as examples of high-profile media sites who get away with pointing to YouTube links. There’s a clear difference – Guardian offers so much more than just those video links AND they have financial / legal backing, so they have a way out. 101 GG offer little else as part of their brand and I’m not sure they have the funds to wage an expensive legal war (if they did they wouldn’t be worried). You can’t fight this by naming and shaming – you can only fight this by evolving and by fighting the establishment on their turf.

One last thing – access to free football video clips cannot go away. There will always be avenues available to determined individuals to these things and as a consequence, sites like TV Links and 101 Great Goals will keep popping up. As long as the ‘establishment’ keeps going after ‘copyright violators’ without providing reasonable alternative for fans to get their video fix (getting the footy on TV is not a reasonable alternative for most fans), these ‘violations’ will keep happening.

Look at what’s happening with music and TV shows – you can know easily download tracks for a small fee, and in many cases you get to sample tracks for free. Not everyone has jumped on-board but paid music downloads work for a reason – given a choice between easy, affordable access to something you need and the effort of finding free access + the risk of being arrested for breaking the law, a lot of people will (in my humble opinion) opt for the easy, affordable access. It’s a carrot and stick approach, and to some extent it’s working.

With football videos, the ‘authorities’ are content on just using the stick. To put things into perspective, they’re going after the core football fan – the fan who buys club merchandise and season tickets. These are the fans who volunteer hours and hours of their time, freely, to share what they love. Attacking them without giving them an acceptable way out is only going to generate a violent backlash. Right now fans are disorganised and don’t have the resources to stand up for themselves, but eventually that will change. The longer this goes on, the greater the chances of entrenched resentment and rapidly decreasing chances of a compromise.

I hope that if anyone who is ‘part’ of the ‘establishment’ is reading this, they will consider that the situation needs constructive dialog, not bullying. If history has taught us anything though, it’s that those in power and especially those who have a lot of money at stake (this is all about the money, mind you) will only resort to an amicable agreement if there is no other choice. Expect more arrests, and life for football fans (especially those running sites like 101 Great Goals) to get a lot worse.

Update: Red Ranter pointed me to this article about Radiohead fans willingly paying for freely available music – a fascinating read.

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.