Piracy in the Pitch

The cost of IP infringement

Dr. Susanna Grech Deguara | Published on 08 Jul 2024

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As Europe is currently watching the final stages of the UEFA EURO 2024, the start of the Tour de France, and the countdown to the Paris Olympics, Europe is facing troubling trends in illegal sports streaming and counterfeit sports goods. EUIPO data reveals that millions of EU citizens access illegal sports streams, while the sale of counterfeit sports equipment costs manufacturers €850 million annually. This threatens sports financing as legitimate broadcast revenues support organizations and athletes. 

Tackling Illegal Streaming

Interestingly, the EUIPO’s IP perception study shows that 12% of EU citizens use illegal sources to access and stream sports content. The study shows that this activity is more popular with the younger generations, with 27% of those aged between 15-24 admitting to such activity. Malta stands just 1% above the EU average, placing Malta in 11th place out of the 27 countries from across the bloc. The biggest offenders were Bulgaria (21%), Greece (20%) and Spain (19%), with Hungary (6%) watching the least pirated sports content. Moreover, the EUIPO’s study on online copyright infringement reveals that illicit TV content is accessed through streaming rather than through downloadable content. 

Across the EU, countries and affected parties are tackling live event piracy and counterfeiting using regulations and technology to block illegal online services. The European Commission has adopted two key recommendations on this issue: one focused on combating online piracy of sports and other live events, which established a network of dedicated national administrative authorities, and another aimed at fighting counterfeiting through increased enforcement and awareness, with the EUIPO supporting dissemination, implementation, and monitoring efforts.

Raising awareness also plays a crucial role in addressing piracy by guiding consumers towards legitimate digital content. A notable example is the EUIPO’s Agorateka, a tool that helps viewers identify legal offers for online content, including sporting events.

Impact of Counterfeit Sports Goods

The EUIPO’s Intellectual Property and Youth Scoreboard reveals that 10% of EU youth aged 15-24 intentionally purchase fake sporting equipment, while 7% have bought counterfeit items without knowing.

The financial impact of these counterfeit sales in the EU is significant, resulting in an estimated annual loss of €851 million, equivalent to 11% of the sector's total sales. France, Austria, and the Netherlands suffer the highest monetary losses, each losing hundreds of millions of euro. In terms of proportional impact, Romania, Lithuania, and Hungary are the most affected countries, with counterfeit sports equipment accounting for up to 20% of total lost sales in these countries.

Additionally, EUIPO studies highlight that counterfeit goods pose substantial health risks due to non-compliance with safety and environmental standards, as reported by the EUIPO and OECD study on dangerous goods.

Considering these figures, law enforcement across Europe has ramped up efforts against counterfeit goods. Operation Fake Star, which focused on counterfeit sporting and luxury goods, led to the seizure of 8 million counterfeit items valued at €120 million and the arrest of 264 individuals. Coordinated by Europol and led by Spanish and Greek police, the operation involved agencies and authorities from 18 countries, uncovering not only counterfeiting activities but also organized crime activities such as smuggling and money laundering.

The Competition Against Piracy 

As global sporting events draw millions of viewers, the EUIPO emphasises the importance of intellectual property rights in preserving the integrity and financial stability of sports. Protecting the sports industry is essential to ensure that revenues continue to support athletes and sports organizations. As the EU addresses these challenges, cooperation among consumers, authorities, and the sports community will be crucial in promoting fair play both on and off the field. 

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