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World Cup’s soccer highlights will put social media’s copyright tools to the test

People are going to pirate World Cup highlights. What can social media companies do to stop them?

A soccer player in red goes for the ball as a soccer player in green falls to his knees in the opening World Cup soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Kevin C. Cox / Getty

The 2018 World Cup has started, which means you’ll soon see a lot more soccer (or football, depending on where you’re from) on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else you hang out online. And because the World Cup is a massive global event, people will inevitably want to share highlights from the games online, even if they don’t have the rights to do so.

This was a problem four years ago. Rights holders for the 2014 World Cup, ESPN and Univision in the U.S., had to file complaints with platforms like Twitter to stop users from posting highlights and, in some cases, had to complain directly to media organizations that were sharing World Cup clips without permission.

This year, Sony, which owns World Cup broadcast rights in India, has already issued a warning to potential streaming sites that may try and pirate 2018 matches.

A day and half into this year’s tournament, pirated highlights are already appearing online. A search for “Russia Saudi Arabia” on Twitter returned a number of video highlights of goals, posted by regular users, from yesterday’s opening match. On Facebook, you could see entire highlight reels from Russia’s 5-0 victory from Pages like “God55Sports” and another called “Away Goal.”

So what’s the plan to stop this?

Fox Sports, which paid more than $400 million for the English-language broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 games in the U.S., told Recode that “FIFA takes the lead on anti-piracy enforcement,” and declined to comment further. Facebook and Twitter and YouTube all declined to comment on specific plans to combat piracy, but pointed us to their respective policies or technology features meant to prevent pirated content from spreading. FIFA did not reply to a request for comment.

Either the platforms have a plan for stopping this kind of content and aren’t sharing it, or they don’t have a plan for this, which seems hard to believe. In either case, the onus for chasing down violators is on the rights holders, who either need to complain to the platforms to have stuff taken down or upload their content to Facebook or YouTube, which both have technology to then take down illegal copies automatically.


Facebook, for example, has what it calls “Rights Manager,” a feature that scans the service looking for videos that match whatever videos the rights holder uploads into Facebook’s system. The rights holder can then choose to leave the video up and monetize it, or have it removed. The system even works with live video streams, according to a company spokesperson. The rights holder feeds a “reference stream” of the video into Facebook’s system and the matching technology works simultaneously to search for other, duplicate livestreams.

Rights Manager didn’t exist four years ago, which means we could see fewer pirated soccer highlights on Facebook and Instagram than we did in 2014.

YouTube has a similar feature, called “Content ID,” that does the same thing, including matching pirated live video streams, according to a company spokesperson. Rights holders can ingest live events into YouTube’s system for matching purposes as they are happening, and then the technology will simultaneously look for duplicate streams.

Twitter, meanwhile, says that it responds to takedown requests from a rights holder but doesn’t proactively go hunting for clips or use any kind of matching technology like Facebook or YouTube. That could pose a big problem considering Twitter is best suited for quickly sharing clips of goals and other highlights that then go viral.

It’s in the best interest of these platforms to do a good job policing their services, though, as most of them have deals with broadcast partners to show World Cup content. YouTube is boasting that it will show official highlights from some 80 broadcast partners during the 2018 tournament and will stream the games live in the U.S. through YouTube TV. Fox is producing a live World Cup show for Twitter and is also partnering with Snapchat for official “Our Stories” productions around the games. Broadcasters want people watching as much World Cup as possible, but only if they’re the ones benefiting.

This article originally appeared on

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