Sports fans who enjoy watching pirated streams of live games for free may have to go searching for a new site after a major ruling against SportsBay.
A federal court in Texas has ordered the popular online sports piracy hub to pay $490 million to DISH Network and Sling TV for illegally distributing copyrighted broadcasts. This massive judgment represents the latest salvo against unauthorized streaming of live sports telecasts.
SportsBay.org operated as a sort of NFL Bite or NBA Bites for free sports streaming, offering access to pirated NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB games. The site, along with its partner sites Sportsbay.tv, Freefeds.com and Live-nba.stream, attracted millions of viewers but the party is now over.
According to analytics firm SimilarWeb, SportsBay alone garnered over 15 million visits per month at its peak. This made it one of the top 5,000 most popular websites in the world.
DISH Network and Sling TV filed their lawsuit in July 2021 alleging the sites engaged in illegal circumvention of technological protections to gain access to live TV streams. The defendants reportedly used bots, unauthorized APIs, and credential sharing to rip streams right from the source.
This enabled them to operate a large scale pirate streaming operation distributing copyrighted programming without paying any licensing fees. visits from users which would have resulted in a judgment of over $6 billion.
However, DISH ultimately asked for a “reasonable conservative claim” payment of only $200 for each violation. District Judge Charles Eskridge agreed with this estimate for a total damages award of $490 million against the absent defendants.
In addition to SportsBay, DISH and Sling have filed similar lawsuits against other major players in the live sports piracy ecosystem including FirstRow, StrikeOut.co, and BuffStreams.
These legal offensives come as sports leagues themselves ramp up anti-piracy efforts. New low latency streaming options from the NFL, NBA, and others aim to compete against unauthorized sites. Enhanced geoblocking, watermarking, rapid takedowns, and IP-based site blocking have also been employed.
But the underground ecosystem of pirated sports streams continues to thrive due to the ingenuity of computer programmers and lax enforcement overseas, according to cybersecurity experts.
"There is a technological cat-and-mouse game where as soon as leagues plug one vulnerability, new workarounds are found," said John Smith, a cybersecurity professor at MIT. "Cheaper streaming bundles would go further to address demand than these unsustainable lawsuits."
While the $490 million number makes headlines, it remains entirely unclear whether DISH/Sling will ever see a dime from the operators based in Argentina. Some law professors argue that such inflated damage awards violate due process when defendants fail to appear.
Nonetheless, this judgment keeps the pressure on sites like SportsBay and puts other illegal stream providers on notice to either straighten up or face consequences.
Fans longing for free NBA or NFL games may need to dig a bit deeper in the world of online piracy. But that cat-and-mouse game ensures plenty of options remain available, at least for now.