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As the platform gains more mainstream popularity, illicit livestreams of soccer, boxing, and MMA matches have become trivial to find.
As Liverpool soccer player Roberto Firmino clutched out the only goal of the club's December 21 FIFA Club World Cup match before a live audience of over 45,000, at least twice as many fans were tuned in somewhere better suited to FIFA 20, the video game: the streaming platform Twitch.
While the game roiled on, three of the top 10 livestreams listed in Twitch’s directory were simulcasts of the FIFA Club World Cup match—with 14,000, 33,000, and 53,000 viewers respectively. The usual Twitch suspects filled out the rest of the list: a couple of Fortnite streams, a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament and, a little cutely, a livestream of FIFA 20. The pirated sports streams were live for hours and hours.
The parade of copyright violations wasn’t a Club World Cup anomaly. Twitch has been and remains home to illicit sports broadcasts; a late December boxing match attracted over 86,000 viewers—some of whom spammed ASCII genitalia in chat—and a mid-January soccer match drew over 70,000 over three livestreams. Although Twitch often stomps them out mid-match, plenty of livestreams posted by throwaway accounts with innocuous names like “Untitled” slip through the cracks and garner tens of thousands of viewers.
Pirated live sports broadcasts have prompted hand-wringing from both government and private companies for over 15 years. At a stern 2009 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Texas representative Lamar Smith noted the dramatic increase in the unauthorized distribution of live sports programming. “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free,” he asked. “Why pay the sporting event when you can watch it online for free?”
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