Streaming the Rugby World Cup without DStv in South Africa is illegal — MultiChoice

South Africans can stream all matches of the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) live for free using a virtual private network (VPN) service, but SuperSport owner MultiChoice has warned that doing so would be illegal.

The rights to broadcast or stream sporting events belong to different companies depending on the countries or regions where they are being shown.

In South Africa, MultiChoice has bought the exclusive broadcasting and streaming rights for the 2023 RWC, which will kick off on Friday, 8 September 2023.

All live matches will be broadcast on SuperSport channels only available on the DStv Premium package, which starts from R799 per month for a streaming-only option.

As the tournament is taking place over 51 days, you will need to pay for at least two months’ subscriptions — which will cost a minimum of R1,598 — to watch all the matches.

Fortunately, 16 matches will also be available live on SABC TV broadcasts — including all Springbok games.

However, serious rugby fanatics will likely want to watch at least some of the remaining 32 games.

UK residents are fortunate to have free access to all the Rugby World Cup games through ITV’s online streaming service, ITVX.

It is important to distinguish between ITV and “IPTV”, a type of service that has become increasingly common in South Africa.

The first is a legitimate private UK broadcaster, the second-biggest in that country, while the latter is a technology that streams video content over Internet Protocol (IP) networks.

While there are legitimate IPTV services, many stream content illegally for which they don’t hold a licence, infringing on the owner’s copyright.

ITVX is a completely legitimate service, available for free with ads or £5.99 (R144) per month for an ad-free experience with additional movies and TV shows.

A screenshot from the ITVX streaming service. The stream worked perfectly but was automatically blacked for the screenshot as part of built-in copyright protection

Signing up for the service requires that a user provide their name, surname, email address, birth date, and UK postcode. Examples of the latter are publicly available on the Internet.

Although ITV detects and blocks some VPNs, several MyBroadband readers found they could stream ITVX by connecting to a UK-based server through certain VPNs.

Among the VPN services that played nicely with ITVX was Windscribe, which offers free limited-data connectivity to a UK-based server.

Other international online streaming services — like ESPN+ and World Rugby’s Rugby Pass TV service — will show matches live in certain countries.

The latter is only doing so in countries where there are no streaming rights holders — which will likely include regions where the sport is not popular enough to justify spending on the rights.

Screenshot from the RugbyPass TV service

However, according to MultiChoice, watching the 2023 Rugby World Cup in South Africa through any means other than DStv or the SABC is criminal.

“SuperSport has the rights for all forms of pay transmission, including television, internet and mobile, for Rugby World Cup 2023,” the broadcaster told MyBroadband.

“Any other forms of live streaming the Rugby World Cup in our territories is therefore illegal.”

The broadcaster explained that two pieces of South African legislation made it illegal — the Copyright Act of 1978 and Cybercrimes Act of 2020.

The unauthorised access, distribution, or reproduction of copyrighted content, such as RWC matches, could violate the first law.

“The legislation grants content creators and rights holders, like SuperSport, exclusive rights to their creations,” MultiChoice said. “This includes the right to reproduce, distribute, and broadcast the content.”

“Anyone who accesses or distributes this content without the necessary permissions from SuperSport or the original content creator is violating this Act.”

The Cybercrimes Act deals with offences relating to computers, data, and electronic communications.

“Unauthorised access, distribution, or interception of data, which can include streaming content, without proper authorisation, might fall under the purview of this legislation,” MultiChoice said.

“Individuals or entities engaging in these activities in relation to RWC content without SuperSport’s consent might be violating this Act.”

In a warning to people living in the broadcaster’s other markets where it also holds the rights, MultiChoice added that other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had similar laws that protect against copyright infringement and unauthorised broadcasting.

“In summary, unauthorised access, distribution, or viewing of RWC content in territories where SuperSport holds exclusive rights is not just a breach of contract but also a violation of established local and national laws and treaties,” MultiChoice said.

Kurt-Lee Arendse running towards the goal line for his try against the All Blacks in the Springboks’ record 35-7 win at Twickenham on Friday, 25 August 2023

MyBroadband asked law firm Barnard Inc. whether using a VPN to watch the RWC on an alternative international provider’s platform was illegal.

The firm’s head of Intellectual Property, Stefaans Gerber, and junior associate Viteshen Naidoo, explained although the use of a VPN in South Africa was not illegal or unlawful, the use of the VPN would not negate an illegal online activity.

“Put differently, if something is illegal without a VPN, it is still illegal with a VPN,” they said.

A burglar might use a balaclava to hide their face, but that does not mean they did not commit a crime.

They explained when an individual uses a VPN to bypass geoblocking to access restricted content, an inference can be drawn that the service provider broadcasting the content —  which is restricted in the exclusive territory —  is now infringing the exclusive rights of the rightsholder and his exclusive licensees.

“In the circumstances, viewing such services would also be considered an infringing act.

However, they emphasised that this interpretation was “far from a clear position” and would be affected by many other factors.

These can include the nature of the licensing agreements over the broadcast, the terms and conditions of the service provider, and the jurisdiction of the copyright holder.

Punishment unlikely

MultiChoice said it could resort to civil and criminal actions if it becomes aware of people using a VPN to watch the RWC on other platforms in South Africa.

“Infringements of these laws can lead to significant penalties, both in terms of fines and potential imprisonment,” MultiChoice warned.

However, it might prove incredibly difficult to conduct a successful investigation into someone who uses a VPN to access such content.

Reputed VPN services generally don’t keep logs of their users’ activity, which means neither they nor Internet service providers (ISPs) could provide this information if law enforcement comes knocking.

In addition, due to the high costs of an investigation and prosecution of illegal streaming, providers are targeted more often than consumers. In this instance, the provider would be ITV.

Gerber added that it was highly doubtful ISPs would be willing or able to fulfil their duty to remove or disable access to “infringing content”, as determined by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2022.

“Individuals who are currently actively using VPNs to view restricted content and bypass geoblocking, must be aware of the potential risks,” Gerber said.

“However, at present, no action has been taken by any entity to restrict and/or prevent the practice.”

Update — Streaming on SABC+

Subsequent to the publication of this story, the SABC confirmed to MyBroadband that it will be live-streaming 16 RWC matches — including all games played by the Springboks — on its SABC+ streaming service.

That follows a sub-licencing deal with MultiChoice, which will also allow it to broadcast the games on SABC 2.

However, DStv Premium will remain the only platform where South Africans can legally stream all 48 matches live.

Now read: DStv Premium vs Netflix Premium price hikes in South Africa

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Streaming the Rugby World Cup without DStv in South Africa is illegal — MultiChoice