The rapid growth of internet sites seemingly beyond the reach of the Premier League’s lawyers is allowing fans the chance to watch their team live online. Martin del Palacio Langer goes surfing

Last May, the Premier League sued YouTube for “having knowingly misappropriated its intellectual property by encouraging footage to be viewed on its site”. The case has not yet been resolved but, as a result of the lawsuit, images of recent matches have disappeared from the site, which now actively tracks and eliminates any videos even remotely related to what is occurring in English stadiums. However, this measure has not meant that football fans around the world have lost their only opportunity of watching the best moments of their favourite matches online. The fall of the popular Google video page gave way to the rise of other sites with even more effective systems, which present highlights online minutes after a game has ended.

Since 2005, the year of the emergence and expansion of YouTube, websites in even the most remote parts of the globe have replicated its simple video broadcast system in Flash format. Countless pages and forums dedicated exclusively to football began to host the very same images that the Premier League had managed to block from YouTube. One recent example comes from an unusual source. For much of the past two seasons, Tottenham fans had been able to watch all their goals on the website egyptianplayers.com, which exhaustively followed the progress of Egyptians Mido and Hossam Ghaly.

Finding such images would still have been difficult but for the emergence of a new generation of pages devoted solely to the reproduction and transmission of ­matches for free. The most efficient of these is the Spanish rojadirecta.com, whose forums house highlights from dozens of matches from around the world shortly after they have finished. The website is also a mecca for those who wish to watch in real time over the internet. Rojadirecta publishes daily links to the various streams that broadcast matches, usually originating from China, Hong Kong or the Middle East, where fixtures from the major leagues are transmitted on terrestrial television and not on pay-per-view, as often happens in the countries where the matches are talking place.

Is all this legal? Apparently so, according to the information provided by the website itself after it was sued on August 24, 2007 by Audiovisual Sport, which owns the rights to show footage of some of the teams in the Spanish league. In an official press release, Rojadirecta stated that they decided to ignore the legal action because “we are convinced that there is no crime in our activity, as we do not even host any audiovisual content on our servers. Rojadirecta publishes only text and links to external channels [or simply “streams”] not hosted by Roja­directa, which has no power at all over them, and which, regardless of our activity, would continue to be accessible by other means.”

Thus, Rojadirecta serves only as a link to the Chinese software that lets users watch. With LiveFooty (livefooty.doctor-serv.com), it is possible to watch games from the site via direct links to the same software. It is worth mentioning that LiveFooty is maintained through donations from its users. There are many other sites providing access to match highlights and links to download live games through the internet – football4less.com, rinconerop2p.com and footballstreaming.info, for example, offer the same information.

The legal action that forced the Premier League to withdraw its highlights from YouTube ended up being a media coup. Anyone who wants to watch the best moments from their team’s matches, or even complete games without paying subscription fees to BSkyB or Setanta Sports, needs nothing more than a fast broadband connection and a bit of patience. Clearly the major leagues will have to change their approach. The future of football, like many other things in the 21st century, belongs to the internet.

From WSC 252 February 2008

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday