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Periscope and what you need to know about the new era of self-broadcasting

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Live video streaming app Periscope is the hot new social media platform, and is predicted to transform the way we communicate online. But the repercussions for users should make us all wary of jumping in feet first.

If you haven’t already heard of Periscope, expect to be hearing plenty about it very soon. This new kid on the block has become an almost overnight sensation, with user numbers mushrooming on a daily basis. In a nutshell, this Twitter-owned app takes long-established webcam technology and makes it portable for the first time. It allows anybody with a smartphone to live broadcast from anywhere to anybody.

Armchair supporters

Recently I broadcast my first periscope from the Cardiff City match against Millwall. I was astonished to see viewers pouring in, many from London who I imagine were keen to see how their team were getting on but couldn’t be bothered making the trip down the M4.

As it turns out, that was a wise decision on their part; the match was diabolical. Why bother with a two-hour train journey when some long-suffering season ticket holder can broadcast the action live from their smartphone? Ok, so the quality isn’t top notch – you can’t cut to different angles or cameras – but it beats shelling out for match and train tickets right?

As I watched my ‘viewers’ pour in, I felt a frisson of excitement, but then I wondered “Is this actually legal?”. It suddenly occurred to me that somebody with more expensive lawyers than me owns the rights to broadcast Cardiff City matches. And here we get to the heart of the challenge presented by Periscope and other similar apps such as Meerkat.

It’s easy to see why the ability to live broadcast easily and cheaply via a smartphone is exciting for both individuals and brands keen to connect with existing and new audiences. But there are a number of challenges that arise from the very nature of the live video medium.

Gloves are off

The National Hockey League in America has cracked down on fans live streaming on-rink action. It issued a memo prohibiting any broadcast within 30 minutes of a match beginning. HBO also sent takedown notices to Periscope after users used it to broadcast the fifth-season premiere of Game of Thrones.

It’s obvious why commercial organisations are nervous of Periscope, and as is so often the case, it all comes down to money. With the endless branding opportunities the platform presents, why would they want to hand control of that process over to fans?

It’s too early to tell what the legal repercussions could be for people who contravene any bans. Brands are still getting to grips with the potential implications of the explosion in popularity of Periscope. Yet if we think back to the legal action issued against people downloading large volumes of music illegally, it’s not hard to see the problems that could arise. Any organisations with money to lose could flex their legal muscle against individuals they perceive to be threatening their interests.
Big brands have been quick to see the potential opportunities Periscope presents for connecting with fans.


Fashion labels DKNY, Urban Outfitters and H&M already experimenting with sharing live video content. I predict that we will see a huge growth in brands jumping on the bandwagon over coming months. We know that video has a stronger impact than other content. For this reason, Periscope has an opportunity to change social media forever and make a big impact on digital content.

But for individuals and brands alike, it would be wise to approach the app with care.
As with any new tool, there are a range of unforeseen issues and potential pitfalls to consider.

For example, if you broadcast live from the pub and a song is playing in the background, are you infringing the artist’s copyright? Traditional broadcasters have to apply for clearance to play recorded music and pay a fee to the publisher. What about the legal implications of confidential conversations or written material being inadvertently shared? If you’re broadcasting on private property that doesn’t belong to you, have you secured permission to broadcast? What about members of the public in shot who haven’t given consent for video of them to be used?

While Periscope could transform the way we all communicate online, the repercussions for misuse – both deliberate and unintentional – are too significant to ignore.

My advice would be to make sure you plan your content well. Think it through in the same way you would with any other marketing or social media activity. At the click of a button, your video is out there in the public domain. With no opportunity to edit, your personal TV channel could bring with it some very real risks.

[Photo above: Meerkat and Periscope App over New York City by Anthony Quintano on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons]

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  1. Comment by JH posted on

    What a weak blog!

    As the official blog of the IPO, I expect you to *know* what the legal position is (or at least ask somebody in the building who does), rather than just punt a lot of questions up in the air. You are, after all, supposed to be the government's policy development experts on all aspects of IP law.

    As to some of the specifics:

    * Live events: theatre and concerts will be covered by performers rights (as well as authors' rights in the music and/or play). But the types of performances covered by such rights are narrowly set out at CDPA s180(2). They do not include football matches or other sporting events, so there is no IP law relevant here. The sale of the attendance ticket may come with contractual provisions against self-broadcasting from the event; but those would be matters of contract law, not IP law.

    * Private property: so long as one has legal access to the land, there is no requirement in law to obtain specific permission for photography or broadcasting. (Though the property-holder is within their rights to forbid photography or broadcasting as a condition of access, or to withdraw access permission if they dislike what you're doing; failure to leave under such circumstances would then constitute trespass). It's also worth remembering that there is an enormous amount of private land that is now opened up to access pretty much without restriction without permission being required by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

    * Privacy: Yes, privacy law concerns can arise ultimately deriving from Art 8 ECHR -- the law is expected to uphold individuals' right to respect for private life. However incidental inclusion of unidentified members of the public in (say) an open moorland or a National Trust property is unlikely to trigger any such concern, nor typically any other case if there was no particular expectation of privacy or sensitive act involved.

    * Radio in a pub: Obviously rebroadcasting a football match wholesale off a pub's big-screen tv is likely to be problematic. But for a non-commercial self-broadcast, where the music is just what happened to be on in the background, is not a primary focus, and has no particular significance, it is unlikely to be considered anything more than merely incidental and de minimis.

    Copyright law is there to support creativity and self-expression, not to strangle it. And that is what the IPO should be doing as well.

    Yes, if people are setting out to knowingly infringe valuable commercial copyrights, that is not acceptable and they can expect the law to take a dim view of it. But generally the law and its application is pretty sensible, and it serves nobody well to build up false fears.

    • Replies to JH>

      Comment by Clare Saunders posted on

      Thank you for your comments.

      The purpose of the IPO blog is to provide an opportunity for everyone who has an interest in intellectual property to share their views and experiences, raise questions and to encourage more discussion on IP. The blog includes updates from IPO staff and industry experts who share their knowledge and experience of IP.

      This particular blog has been written by a third party and sets out their views on some of the potential issues that may arise when using new live-streaming technology. It is intended to be a starting point for wider discussion, and to provide an opportunity for experts such as yourself to share your views on how copyright and other laws may apply to the use of this new technology.