Spain: Coordinated raid busts 166 pubs for showing LaLiga football illegally

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In response to requests by the Spain’s LaLiga football league, Spanish National Police inspected business establishments in cities across Spain, seizing streaming devices that presented soccer matches without proper license.  The programming had an estimated value of more than €1 million.

166 establishments were cited for illicit distribution of television signals from soccer matches in the cities of Seville, Malaga, Cordoba, Zaragoza, Valladolid, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca, Gijón, Madrid, Vigo, Las Palmas, Bilbao and Barcelona.

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According to the Spanish National Police, the investigation began in January 2022, after a complaint filed by La Liga, against establishments in different Spanish provinces that would be illegally distributing the signal of soccer matches of Spanish teams, without the authorization of LaLiga.

Streaming devices taken by police in coordinated raid of 166 Spanish pubs. Source: Spanish National Police

Upon investigation, agents found that the establishments were showing broadcast football matches from the La Liga Santander and UEFA Champions League competitions.  With that knowledge, police mounted a nationwide operation of all the suspected establishments during one of the days of the LaLiga Santander football competition and the infrastructure that allowed the illegal viewing of paid multimedia content was dismantled.

Because this programming is protected by encryption, the establishments that were presenting this programming were charged with knowingly decrypting intellectual property that was protected against fraudulent use, and therefore were committing a crime.

LaLiga a leader

LaLiga has been a leader in the battle against piracy, to the extent that it began to develop its own anti-piracy technology in 2015, called Content Protection, “a combination of AI-powered monitoring software and over 20 expert analysts who coordinate with online providers and legal authorities to secure the content’s removal.”

In 2021, LaLiga reported that Content Protection “removed over 1.5 million illegal sources of LaLiga content in the last season, while its team secured blocking orders to 23 different web domains and complaints against the operators of 32 IPTV websites.”

Read the press release by the Spanish National Police (in Spanish)

Why it matters

This type of action rings familiar to UK observers, where police regularly raid pubs found to be showing English Premier League and other soccer programming there.

While many of the reported actions taken by Spanish police involved collaborations with international law enforcement and judicial bodies, this one was likely a solo operation run by national police because it was entirely within Spain.

The broader cost

According to LaLiga, during 2020, a total of 71 million football matches were illegally viewed, at a value of €282 million euros, (causing €231 million of damage). The number of matches watched illegally decreased compared to 2019, where 87 million matches were viewed, but the number of consumers who access to watch football through illegal portals remained the same.

Overall, piracy has been trending downward in the country. According to the Observatory on Piracy and Digital Content Consumption Habits 2020 piracy in Spain was down by 10% since 2018 and 24% since 2015.  However, consumption of football programming through illegal channels rose from 22% in 2019 to 23% in 2020.

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