Does Facebook’s ‘Watchlist’ signal an increase in illegal streaming?

24 Aug 2017


Facebook’s assault on the online streaming market has been billed by the BBC as an attempt to ‘reinvent’ the way in which we consume television. The Facebook Watch service, launching imminently, represents what could be a serious threat not only to YouTube’s online video hegemony but also to traditional broadcasters. It seeks to shift the emphasis on provision of content from the regulators to the audiences.


The launch will see Facebook users given a new ‘Watch’ tab on their feeds, enabling users to view a wide range of shows from comedy to sport, some of which are being directly funded by the social media giant. The crucial feature is the ‘watchlist’, which will enable users to see what their friends are consuming and then immediately tune in. With Facebook now integrated, for better or worse, as a key component of many people’s social lives, Mark Zuckerberg’s idea is that this algorithm will gently encourage users to embrace television as a ‘shared experience’ rather than being locked into personal schedules. The upside for Facebook is that users will spend even more time within the confines of the app, boosting its already astronomical advertisement revenues which will be used to fund the service.


Currently, Facebook’s plans do not overly concern the major players such as HBO, who are confident that Facebook’s level of investment would need to increase significantly in order to compete on quality. However, were Facebook to be successful in monopolising the market, it seems likely that this would lead to a mass proliferation of streaming piracy.


Earlier this year we wrote about how the Intellectual Property Office had put major streaming sites such as Kodi in the firing line for providing access to illegal streaming through set-top boxes (you can view the article here). If the television market is to realign itself as primarily an online service, it is no great leap to suggest that the 13% figure of online infringers currently using such devices, as reported by Ros Lynch, copyright and IP enforcement director at the IPO, would be set to soar.


A particular concern would be the vulnerability of Facebook, and more pertinently its content providers to ‘stream-ripping’ services, whereby internet users are able to ‘rip’ content directly from the source’s URL, granting permanent access without the provider’s consent. Ripping videos like this will also enable internet users to access the content without being hindered by imposed advertisement breaks and targeted ads on Facebook’s website. This is a major breach of content providers’ intellectual property rights, made even more significant by the fact that providers are reliant on the advertisement revenue which is generated in line with viewing figures. The IPO had earlier reported that already 15% of internet users have undertaken stream-ripping actions, with 24% of this figure not viewing doing so as an infringement of IP rights.


If television really is set for a substantial online shift, the Courts must be prepared to take action to protect rights holders and to educate the public on the legality of their actions in accessing online content.


If you would like to discuss any Intellectual Property matters, please contact Georgina or one of the team at DMH Stallard using the details below.


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