Written by By Julia Nye, CNN
With the Premier League kicking off tonight, sports fans will tune in in their thousands to watch the season’s first big match. However, many who plan to watch the game online will be fuming to learn the game is not online-streamable due to a BBC “rights dispute.”
The game’s scheduling clashes with the schedule for Premier League matches being screened on BBC Two, though the broadcaster has no plans to force subscribers to watch.
It’s not the first time fans of English soccer have been frustrated by BBC coverage: the BBC’s last live-streaming deal, which ended in 2016, covered the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
Alex deakin-Jones, partner at law firm Rouse Williams who specialises in copyright rights, told CNN the BBC is permitted to play matches with their own rights, but live streamings may still contravene copyright by promoting ESPN on the BBC website.
“If ITV (formerly known as ITV, the broadcaster which failed to show Manchester United v Leicester City last season) or Fox (which reportedly paid over $1 billion for the rights to show matches including this game) sought to follow suit then both broadcasters would have grounds to challenge the BBC’s (rights) bid,” he said.
Old Trafford, Manchester, England, where English soccer club Manchester United will start their Premier League title defense tonight. Credit: Rebecca Naden/AP
“It is an open question as to whether live streaming of these football matches is covered by fair use laws. In other words, are rights in breach if the BBC produces its own matches and runs them online and through social media simultaneously?”
“The BBC have not yet explained what they mean by ‘our own’ matches and social media accounts, but presumably they include those produced by other sports rights holders not licensed by the BBC.”
It’s a murky situation, however, with strong language from the BBC’s governing body appearing on its main website in the article explaining why the game couldn’t be streamed online.
“The BBC is not authorised to broadcast any match in which clubs from a different division are involved,” BBC Sport’s general manager Graham Wall said.
“Manchester City v Aston Villa will be shown as part of ESPN’s coverage of the league this weekend, and there is no arrangement for the game to be streamed live online or via our channels or the BBC iPlayer, so the match cannot be streamed.”
(UPDATE, Aug. 28: Following this article’s publication the BBC issued a statement clarifying their blackout of the game and the reason behind their decision: “Because this game was played at the wrong time this weekend we couldn’t ‘stream’ it over the BBC iPlayer,” the statement read. “We’re very sorry if anyone found the story on the site confusing.”)