Thousands of IP addresses which were identified as having been illegally broadcasting Italian and Spanish league matches via IPTV service subscriptions last season will be blocked from continuing to provide content when the new season begins, a judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey ordered telecommunications companies Epic, Melita and Go to block illegal and unlicensed broadcasts of Italian and Spanish league matches.

This could affect thousands of local IPTV customers who may expect an interruption of their service.

Go and Melita television subscribers will not be affected.

TSN is the only station licensed and authorised to broadcast La Liga games in Malta.

TSN subscribers will continue to watch the matches as well as those from the English Premier League and Italian Serie A.

IPTV is essentially a legal service if coming from the proper channels. It is, however, abused, when the content feeds into a legal stream but is then relayed illegally to thousands of other subscribers who will be bypassing the official channels.

The judge was ruling in two separate cases filed in the First Hall of the Civil Court by La Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional and by Infront Sports and Media AG, a company based in Switzerland, against the three local internet service providers.

The court heard how a report prepared by the audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers had identified a substantial number of IP addresses in Malta which, they suspected, were illegally transmitting or streaming content, specifically Serie A matches and the First and Second Division matches of the Spanish league, without the proper licence and authorisation, in breach of intellectual property rights and violating copyright.

Their legal representative in Malta told the court that this content was being accessed in Malta via websites, mobile device apps and other software, including set-top boxes, media players, computers and other electronic devices.

Although the internet service providers themselves were not infringing copyright, this was being done by those who were providing illegal content.

Mr Justice Spiteri Bailey was informed that while the case was ongoing, the service providers had reached an out-of-court settlement, described in court as a “compromise agreement” with Infront Sports and La Liga.

The judge ordered that this agreement, despite forming part of the acts of the case, not be published, at the request of the parties, and instead remain sealed in the possession of the Court Registrar and opened only in the event of a dispute between the parties on the agreement.

Upholding all of their requests, the judge ordered the three internet service providers to stop or block the IP addresses listed in the report or any other addresses identified at any time by Infront Sports or La Liga before or during the football season.

This will mean that they will be unable to transmit or stream the direct matches of the Italian Serie A or those of the first and second divisions of the Spanish La Liga football league for the 2022/2023 season.

The internet service providers must be informed of the games in writing not less than 96 hours in advance and should receive a list of IP addresses which need to be blocked up to 24 hours before the match.

The court ordered PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PWC) Malta to continue its investigation for the identification of more IP addresses in Malta which were illegally providing streaming services.

In November 2020, Malta was among 12 countries affected by a major Italian police operation that shut down 5,500 illegal live-streaming sites and services.

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