Closing the Streaming Loophole: How the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act Allows Dana White to Punish Illegal UFC Streamers
By: Madison Hewitt* Posted: 03/01/21
On January 23, 2021, Conor McGregor fought Dustin Poirier in a UFC fight known as “UFC 257.” The fight was available via pay-per-view and became one of the UFC’s highest selling pay-per-views ever, garnering around 1.3 million views at $69.99 per view. While this makes it clear that many people paid to watch the fight legally, these are not the viewers UFC president, Dana White, is focused on. Rather, White has made it his mission to stop those viewers who are illegally streaming UFC fights. White’s most direct avenue of combating such illegal streamers is via the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act.
Protecting Lawful Streaming Act
The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act (PLSA) was introduced in Congress in 2020 as a provision of the more than 5,000-page Covid-19 Stimulus Bill. The purpose of PLSA is to punish streamers who are pirating copyrighted content. However, PLSA specifies that its target is not users of illegal websites, nor is it those who are running legal and authorized streaming services. In order to ensure that these groups are not targeted by PLSA, “this bill is narrowly tailored and avoids criminalizing users, who may do nothing more than click on a link, or upload a file.” Thus, due to the narrow tailoring and the language of the statute, the only people who will be punished under PLSA are “’commercial, for-profit streaming piracy services’ that make money from illegally streaming copyrighted material.”
Illegal Streaming in Sports – The “Streaming Loophole”
Athletic organizations such as the UFC and the NBA have been urging Congress to pass legislation similar to PLSA for almost as long as streaming services have existed. Prior to PLSA, streaming infringement was only considered a misdemeanor. According to proponents of stricter copyright protections, the inability to charge illegal streaming as a felony created a “streaming loophole.” By taking advantage of this loophole, illegal streaming services were able to stream live sports with very little oversight or punishment.
Dana White’s Fight Against Illegal Streaming
While many organizations want to crack down on illegal streaming, the UFC has led the charge. White’s battle against illegal streaming was made public early in 2021 when he issued a warning on Instagram for those planning to illegally stream UFC 257. This warning, while applicable to all streamers, was directed at one illegal streamer in particular – Rocco Walker. White warned Walker, a known pirate of illegal streams, ahead of UFC 257, that he would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if he was caught streaming the fight. It has since been revealed that Walker has not been prosecuted, as he decided to heed White’s warning. Rather than illegally stream UFC 257, Walker decided instead to put out a statement in which he claimed “I will not be streaming the McGregor vs. Poirier anymore, but I will show you how to buy it legally.” Additionally, after narrowly escaping White’s crosshairs, Walker decided to delete his entire streaming service. While White may not have been able to prosecute Walker, he considers the result of this incident – getting a prominent pirate of illegal streams off the internet – a win. Additionally, White is confident that he will be able to catch illegal streamers in the future. In a statement taken after the fight, he claimed that for “[e]very [UFC] event I’m going to go after one of these guys.” While White’s plan to prosecute and punish one streamer may not have worked this time, White will have plenty of opportunities to punish illegal streamers in the future thanks to the PLSA.
*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2022, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.
 See Damon Martin, Dana White reveals fate of internet pirate he targeted for threatening to illegally stream UFC 257, MMA Fighting (Jan. 24, 2021), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/1/24/22246933/dana-white-reveals-fate-of-internet-pirate-he-targeted-for-threatening-to-illegally-stream-ufc-257 (stating Conor McGregor was to fight Dustin Poirier in an event known as UFC 257).
 See Tim Bissell, UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 was one of the highest ever selling pay-per-views, SB Nation (Jan. 26, 2021), https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2021/1/26/22250231/ufc-257-dustin-poirier-vs-conor-mcgregor-2-reportedly-sold-1-6-million-pay-per-views-mma-news (“According to Ourand UFC 257 has logged 1.3 million pay-per-view buys through ESPN+ and an additional 400,000 buys from international markets. That total, of 1.6 million global buys, puts the event very high on the list of all-time best-sellers.”); see also Steven Marrocco, Dana White: ‘One of the big’ illegal streamers sat out UFC 258, ‘we’ll keep doing what we’re doing’, MMA Fighting (Feb. 14, 2021), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/2/14/22282650/dana-white-one-of-the-big-illegal-streamers-sat-out-ufc-258-well-keep-doing-what-were-doing (“UFC 257 marked the first event under the new pay-per-view price tag of $69.99…”).
 See Nick Venable, UFC Boss Dana White Has A Surprise For People Illegally Streaming Fights, CinemaBlend (Jan. 5, 2021), https://www.cinemablend.com/television/2561015/ufc-boss-dana-white-has-a-surprise-for-people-illegally-streaming-fights (detailing Dana White’s commitment to punishing illegal streamers).
 See id. (“But for everybody who is flippantly saying they won't pay it, and will instead opt to find a way to stream it illegally, Dana White is coming after you.”).
 See Andy Maxwell, UFC Piracy: Here Are Dana White’s Legal Options Following Streaming Threat, TorrentFreak (Jan. 10, 2021), https://torrentfreak.com/ufc-piracy-here-are-dana-whites-legal-options-following-streaming-threat-210110/ (“[T]he most obvious candidate for enforcement is via the newly-passed Protecting Lawful Streaming Act which transforms illegal streaming into a felony.”).
 See Jordan Valinsky, 10 years in prison for illegal streaming? It’s in the Covid-19 relief bill, CNN Business (Dec. 22, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/22/tech/illegal-streaming-felony-covid-relief-bill/index.html (“Tucked away in the more than 5,000-page long Covid-19 stimulus bill is a new law that severely punishes streamers that pirate large amounts of copyrighted content.”).
 See id. (noting purported purpose of The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act is to punish persons who pirate and stream copyrighted content).
 See id. (“You probably have nothing to worry about: The ‘Protecting Lawful Streaming Act,’ which was introduced earlier this month by Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, doesn't target casual internet users. The law specifies that it doesn't apply to people who use illegal streaming services or ‘individuals who access pirated streams or unwittingly stream unauthorized copies of copyrighted works.’").
 See Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, The Covid Relief Bill Includes a Felony Streaming Act Aimed at Closing a “Streaming Loophole”, Lexology (Dec. 30, 2020), https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=346543f5-5777-4b07-8dc4-dcae33107adf.
 See Jordan Valinsky, 10 years in prison for illegal streaming? It’s in the Covid-19 relief bill, CNN Business (Dec. 22, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/22/tech/illegal-streaming-felony-covid-relief-bill/index.html.
 See Andy Maxwell, UFC Piracy: Here Are Dana White’s Legal Options Following Streaming Threat, TorrentFreak (Jan. 10, 2021), https://torrentfreak.com/ufc-piracy-here-are-dana-whites-legal-options-following-streaming-threat-210110/ (“The UFC and organizations such as the NBA have been begging for this type of legislation for years since it effectively closes the so-called ‘streaming loophole’ and allows for streaming site operators and IPTV providers to be targeted criminally.”).
 See Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, The Covid Relief Bill Includes a Felony Streaming Act Aimed at Closing a “Streaming Loophole”, Lexology (Dec. 30, 2020), https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=346543f5-5777-4b07-8dc4-dcae33107adf (“Previously, streaming infringing content was classified as a misdemeanor, while the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of copyrighted works under certain circumstances were already felonies.”).
 See id. (“Proponents of stricter copyright protections criticized this inability to charge illicit streaming as a felony, complaining that the law created a “streaming loophole.”).
 See id. (indicating previous legal ramifications for illegal streaming were not enough to prevent a “streaming loophole,” and that pirates of illegal streams could thus get away with their illegal behavior or only be punished minimally for it).
 See Tom Taylor, Dana White sends another warning to illegal streamers: “I look forward to the crying and the begging”, BJPENN (Jan. 13, 2021), https://www.bjpenn.com/mma-news/ufc/dana-white-sends-another-warning-to-illegal-streamers-i-look-forward-to-the-crying-and-the-begging/ (“’We’ve been one of the leagues that has been so proactive on piracy,’ White said.”).
 See DANA WHITE SENDS WARNING TO ILLEGAL STREAMERS AHEAD OF UFC 257, MMA Weekly (Jan. 5, 2021), https://www.mmaweekly.com/dana-white-sends-warning-to-illegal-streamers-ahead-of-ufc-257 (detailing Instagram exchange between Dana White and person threatening to illegally stream UFC 257).
 See Damon Martin, Dana White reveals fate of internet pirate he targeted for threatening to illegally stream UFC 257, MMA Fighting (Jan. 24, 2021), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/1/24/22246933/dana-white-reveals-fate-of-internet-pirate-he-targeted-for-threatening-to-illegally-stream-ufc-257 (“Ahead of UFC 257 on Saturday night, White had personally targeted a particular streamer who’d actually taunted him on social media after his declaration that he was shutting down illegal streams for the event featuring Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 2.”); see also Patrick Redford, The Dread Pirate of the UFC Has Escaped Dana White’s Justice… For Now, Defector (Jan. 26, 2021), https://defector.com/the-dread-pirate-of-the-ufc-has-escaped-dana-whites-justice-for-now/ (indicating Rocco Walker is the streamer being referenced by Dana White).
 See Derek Hall, Dana White Admits Not Catching The Illegal Streamer Whose House He Was Watching, Middle Easy (Jan. 25, 2021), https://middleeasy.com/mma-news/dana-white-catch-illegal-streamer/ (explaining Dana White threatened to prosecute the illegal streamer who was caught by Dana White planning to illegally stream UFC 257); see also Steven Marrocco, Dana White: ‘One of the big’ illegal streamers sat out UFC 258, ‘we’ll keep doing what we’re doing’, MMA Fighting (Feb. 14, 2021), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/2/14/22282650/dana-white-one-of-the-big-illegal-streamers-sat-out-ufc-258-well-keep-doing-what-were-doing (indicating Dana White and The UFC cannot prosecute illegal streamers themselves, but are working in conjunction with proper authorities to catch illegal streamers in the act).
 See id. (stating illegal streamer being targeted by Dana White was not prosecuted because he followed Dana White’s instructions and did not illegally stream UFC 257).
 See id. (stating Rocco Walker explained how to stream UFC 257 legally after declaring he would not be streaming it illegally).
 See id. (“Now his whole streaming service has been deleted and it’s gone. Disappeared.”).
 See id. (“Despite not catching the person red handed, Dana White is still marking this down as a win in his book, for stopping the person from streaming altogether.”).
 See id. (“He says the war is not over either, as he plans to take out one pirate at every event.”).
 See id. (explaining Dana White will attempt to target one illegal streamer at every pay-per-view UFC event).
 See supra notes 6-10 and accompanying text for a further discussion of the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act; see also Steven Marrocco, Dana White: ‘One of the big’ illegal streamers sat out UFC 258, ‘we’ll keep doing what we’re doing’, MMA Fighting (Feb. 14, 2021), https://www.mmafighting.com/2021/2/14/22282650/dana-white-one-of-the-big-illegal-streamers-sat-out-ufc-258-well-keep-doing-what-were-doing (indicating Dana White himself does not have the power to prosecute illegal streamers, but is using his position as UFC president to work in conjunction with proper authorities in order to catch and prosecute illegal streamers).