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Conor McGregor vs Khabib: How live streaming pay-per-view fight on Twitter and Periscope led to major fine for fan

Live streams that let fans watch online for free are set to spread across Facebook and Twitter ahead of UFC 229 – but one illegal streamer reveals what happened when he inadvertently broke the law

Anthony Cuthbertson
Sunday 07 October 2018 01:16 BST
Conor McGregor v Khabib Nurmagomedov: Tale of the tape

A man who broadcast part of a pay-per-view fight on his phone has received thousands of pounds worth of fines, despite not actually broadcasting a single minute of the fight itself.

The case has prompted industry warnings about the free live streams set to spread across Facebook and Twitter ahead of Saturday's fight between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229.

Josh Mellor said he had no idea that he was breaking the law when streaming several minutes of the pre-fight coverage of a boxing match using Periscope on his smartphone.

"I went round to my friend's house to watch a pay-per-view boxing match and while we were waiting for the fight to start I started scrolling through Periscope," Mr Mellor told The Independent.

"I'd heard in the pub, and from friends, that you could watch free live streams of the fight and wondered how as we'd paid to watch it. Whilst on Periscope, I saw a number of streams and while exploring I clicked the 'Go Live' button. I streamed the pre-fight coverage from my mate's TV for a few minutes before quitting the app."

Almost immediately after closing Periscope, the set-top box that he and his friend were using to legally watch the fight was shut down.

An industry spokesperson explained to The Independent that the stream was identified because of unique identifiers. Those consist of codes personalised to each account that appear on screen when watching a pay-per-view stream, which users "may not see".

These allow rights owners to identify whose account is replicating a stream illegally and ensure that their accounts are shut down as quickly as possible.

But Mr Mellor and his friend didn't make the connection between the illegal feed and the box shutting down until a few days later when his friend received a letter warning of court proceedings relating to piracy.

Mr Mellor took responsibility for the live stream on Periscope and agreed to pay the necessary damages and legal fees, which was settled for an undisclosed amount.

"I think there are a lot of people out there who don't understand that digital piracy comes with some very real risks," he said. "There are laws around it and the implications can be huge, from large fines to actual jail time."

Other individuals have faced fines of up to £45,000, such as Waqas Rasheed from Bradford.

Mr Rasheed was found guilty of breaching copyright after sharing broadcasts from the then Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 channels in March and April last year.

He shared the streams on website for other people to illegally watch. Rasheed claimed he had accidentally created the streams while trying to watch Sky Sports for free online, but the judge shot down his excuse.

McGregor last fought in the boxing ring against Floyd Mayweather (Sportsfile via Getty)

Finding online live streams of major sporting events, such as pay-per-view UFC fights, has become increasingly easy in recent years thanks to social media.

Searching keywords, such as the fighters' names, in the search bars of platforms like Twitter often throw up dozens of results with links leading to websites hosting illegal live streams that let fans watch online for free.

Beyond the criminal aspect of hosting or watching such streams, cyber security experts have warned of the risks some links pose to viewers.

Criminals use the popularity of some sporting events to dupe people into downloading malicious code to their devices that steals their personal data.

Chris Hodson from the cyber security firm Zscaler told The Independent: “It’s become a lucrative business for malicious actors to host illegal streaming websites."

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