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UFC COO claims illegal streamers are taking money out of fighters’ pockets

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Lawrence Epstein said piracy “hurts” fighters.

Lawrence Epstein - UFC Performance Institute Press Conference
UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein in Shanghai, China in 2018.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein gave a rare interview to Sportico recently. With that outlet he discussed the UFC’s anti-piracy efforts and how the company are looking to change Federal laws to go after people they suspect of illegally redistributing their material.

Epstein told Sportico that the UFC currently relies on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to cut-down on piracy. Companies utilize this act by serving DMCA notices to services like YouTube, Twitter and other platforms to request that those platforms remove the material that is subject to their request.

Epstein told Sportico that the UFC is frustrated by having to rely on DMCA as their primary tool for anti-piracy. Epstein called the DMCA is a “very reactive type of protocol” (ht Yahoo!) due to the fact it requires the copyright holder to act. Simply put, if the copyright holder does not notice an illegal duplication or simulcast of their property then it is unlikely that the content will be flagged or taken down by anyone else.

The UFC COO further explained that serving DMCA notices are difficult to do during live events and that a request could take as long as half an hour to be processed.

“It’s not an appropriate remedy,” said Epstein who added that the UFC are advocating for the DMCA to be amended to include a “stay down system”. The UFC advocates for changes like this through lobbying. ZUFFA has been active in lobbying Congress regarding copyright and piracy issues since 2008.

The ‘stay down system’ the UFC is currently working for would mean that—once a DMCA notice had been served—the platform or internet service provider that has been petitioned would be obligated to monitor the user who was the subject of the notice. The system would further obligate those platforms and providers to prevent that user from further engaging in suspected illegal streaming and piracy activity.

“These big platforms have to take responsibility for what happens on their platforms,” said Epstein.

Yahoo! spoke with copyright law professor Ryan Vacca about the ‘stay down system’. Vacca expressed concerns over making it too easy to have material taken down by copyright holders.

Vacca said that not all copyright owners file DMCA claims to protect their intellectual property and said that some use it to censor “legitimate uses of copyrighted materials, such as critical commentary or parody.”

“We love our fans and want more fans,” said Epstein when discussing potential abuses of the DMCA system. “We’re not trying to stop them from showing video of Conor [McGregor] or other fighters. We are going after the pirates . . . we are trying to stop illegal profiting and reselling of copyright material.”

Epstein went on to say that copyright pirates are harming the bottom line of UFC fighters.

“Every buy that’s stolen is hurting [McGregor] and other fighters. This is not a victimless crime or one that just hurts the big corporation—it hurts the individual athletes . . . remember they have as short window [of life] to monetize” their athletic abilities and skills.”

UFC President Dana White claimed that the UFC brought in record amounts of revenue in 2020. It is estimated that the UFC shares roughly 15-22% of its revenue with fighters, who it treats as independent contractors and negotiates with on a person-to-person basis. Sports leagues with collective bargaining agreements, like the NBA, NHL, MLB and NHL share around 50% of total revenue with their athletes.