Vast numbers of free boxing streams are being hidden in unexpected places on mainstream sites, according to new data.
The fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr will be watched by millions on pay-per-view channels, which will make vast sums of money from coverage of the fight. But many more millions will be watching on illegal streams that continue to flourish as people search out ways to watch the fight for free instead.
When Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder faced off in the US at the end of last year, nearly 10 million people watched on pirated streams, according to data from piracy experts.
Perhaps just as surprising is the means through which they did so. The fight was made available on 133 piracy streaming domains, according to data from piracy company MUSO – but nearly as many streams were available on YouTube, where 80 live links were hosted, the company said.
That meant that some 18.31 per cent of viewers watched on YouTube, rather than the more traditional and hidden sites.
The problem of copyrighted content being hidden in plain sight on mainstream sites continues to grow as fans search out ways to watch major premium events for free. As people rushed to watch Game of Thrones, for instance, some pirates hid free links on game streaming site Twitch, allowing them to make use of the site's reliable technology while steering clear of piracy protections by giving the streams ostensibly innocent names.
YouTube's terms make clear that copyrighted content is only allowed to be shared by the person or company who owns it. It has automated tools that are meant to spot people such videos when they are being shared, and bans people who do.
It also operates tools intended to automatically spot and take down copyright-violating content. Its copyright policy allows the owners of content that "requires regular online rights administration" – such as music labels or TV networks as well as those looking after sporting events – to work with it to try and ensure that links are taken down as quickly as possible.
Such technologies mean that streams are often shut down before the event has concluded. With sporting events, police have threatened to try and do so at critical moments.
Some copyright owners have instead opted to use YouTube in a legitimate way. BT Sport has streamed both the Europa and Champion's League finals for free over the site, apparently at least in part because of a recognition that fans will try and watch for free through other means if they don't.
The evidence from Fury vs Wilder suggests that copyright owners need to pursue this kind of strategy and recognise the vast scale of illegal streaming, said piracy experts.
"This fight was always going to draw in a massive audience, and it certainly did that," said Andy Chatterley, CEO of global piracy authority MUSO. "In fact, our MUSO Discover data shows that, globally, nearly 10 million viewers chose unlicensed channels to watch the bout. This is a huge audience that is, to all intents and purposes, being ignored. Data like this offers insights that could help bring fans back to legal content, but they need to be acknowledged first."
Away from YouTube, devoted and smaller streaming sites still comprise a significant amount of the piracy market, and are less likely to be shut down during the event. But security experts warn that using such sites could bring even worse dangers of their own.
“Previously, those who wanted to stream live international sporting events for free were unaware of the risks," said Joseph Woodruff, threat intelligence analyst at EclecticIQ. "There are many ways these sites allow attackers carry out cyber crime, leaving streamers especially vulnerable to attacks.
"These include, drive-by-downloads, malware downloaded without the user’s knowledge, pop-up windows that automatically download malware to computers. Alongside this, fake support sites and redirects that look legitimate and tell the user they have malware on their machine, recommending they call a support number – during this phone call the 'support' person installs software that gives the attackers a backdoor to the system."