SONY Pictures Networks, the official broadcaster of the ongoing FIFA World Cup in India and South East Asia, approached Maharashtra Police last month with an allegation that several websites are illegally streaming the football matches. The channel has submitted a list of 20 such websites and so far, the police have acted against 10, sources said.
The complaint from Sony came in mid-June, days after the group stage matches of the quadrennial tournament started. Police sources said Sony compiled a list of offending websites and approached the police. Figures provided by Sony last week claimed that the first 26 matches reached a total of 117.3 million viewers in India. Of these, 99.3 million were viewers who watched the games on Sony’s television channels and the remaining 18 million had streamed the matches on Sony’s paid online service and the Sony LIV app. The group stage encounter in which Mexico defeated the defending world champion Germany had recorded the maximum viewers among individual matches, at 7 million, Sony’s figures said.
Like with several major sports events, a number of websites are providing free online access to those who have not subscribed to Sony’s services, thereby eating into the broadcaster’s revenues, the police said. Before the tournament, the broadcaster had issued a warning to streaming services violating its exclusive broadcast rights. Sony Pictures Networks declined a request for comment. An officer from cyber police said they are following a six-pronged strategy to attack the ecosystem in which such websites function and incapacitate them. “Normally, when we shut down a particular website, it springs up again from some other domain. We need to ensure that we damage the entire ecosystem in which such websites function,” a senior officer said.
Explaining the strategies, the officer said they first gather information about companies advertising on these websites. “We write to the advertisers and inform them that the websites to which they are paying revenue are engaged in illegal activities. If they continue to place ads, we warn the advertisers that we may include their names as well, if an FIR is registered. Money paid by advertisers is the main source of income for these websites. So, we try to cut that off,” the officer said.
The police also write to domains that host the websites and inform them about illegality. The company is then unwilling to host such websites, the officer said. The police also inform companies through which the website developers receive their payments, and inform them about a culpability on their part.
Apart from writing to these agencies, the police start criminal proceedings in the form of registering FIR or initiating a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against those running such websites. The police sends compliance notices to those making profits from these sites.
“Lastly, we write to Google to ensure that these websites do not show up at least in the first few pages when people search for streaming websites. These measures are aimed at ensuring that the losses these people incur are more than the gains, thereby making the entire venture unviable” the senior officer said.