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Rio Olympics Piracy: Hyper-Vigilant IOC Blocks Illegal Live Streams — But How Big Is the Threat?

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The International Olympic Committee is notorious for aggressively policing copyright infringement of TV coverage of its biannual games to protect its broadcast partners — even banning users from posting animated GIFs, a policy that has been roundly mocked online.

For the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, the IOC’s antipiracy team and its partners have been out in force, trolling the Internet’s byways for infractions.

Through Friday, the IOC has issued more than 1,300 DMCA takedown notices to Twitter’s Periscope live-streaming service, according to Lumen, the research project at Harvard U. formerly known as Chilling Effects that tracks such requests. (Periscope is the only live-video service that shares content-removal info with Lumen.)

The IOC has also requested removal of Rio Olympics video from Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, but the organization would not provide statistics on the volume of those requests.

“We can confirm that we have in certain cases worked with social-media platforms to report illegal streams,” IOC rep Benjamin Seeley said in an emailed statement to Variety.

But if the 1,300-odd pirate streams on Periscope are any indication, the level of Olympics piracy is hardly a blip compared with the size of the audiences in the U.S. alone that NBC has tallied across TV and digital-streaming outlets over the course of the Rio Games so far. NBC Olympics’ live streaming alone for Rio 2016 topped 2 billion live-streaming minutes on Aug. 15, with six days still remaining for the Games. That’s already 33% more streaming minutes than the combined total for all prior Olympics on NBC.

NBC is pumping out more Olympics video than ever from Rio, delivering a total of 4,500 hours across multiple screens, including for the first time connected-TV devices including Apple TV and Roku players. While NBC Sports also is monitoring piracy, the media company overall has invested far more time and money into delivering enhanced access to the events from Brazil.

The IOC, for its part, works with broadcast partners to “make a huge amount of coverage freely available across media platforms… and this is the key deterrent against piracy — fans prefer to watch high-quality, official Olympic coverage,” Seeley said.

Meanwhile, the IOC next week will launch the free Olympic Channel. Powered by NBC Sports Digital’s Playmaker Media streaming-video unit, with original programming focusing on athletes, as well as live sports event coverage, news and highlights.

Even with all the legal avenues for Olympics content online, the IOC defends its vigilance on copyright infringement because, as the owner of the global broadcast rights for the Olympic Games — including broadcasts on television, radio, mobile and internet platforms — it has a fiduciary duty to ensure piracy doesn’t cut into the viewing of media companies across the globe that license those rights. That extends to its policy for spectators, who are allowed to record video footage from within Olympic venues for their own personal use are prohibited from any public dissemination or broadcast of that content because that’s exclusively available to official Olympic broadcasters.

“The IOC distributes over 90% of the revenue it receives in order to support sport at all levels around the world,” the organization said. “Broadcast rights agreements are therefore the single greatest source of revenue for the Olympic Movement and have been essential in the growth of the global popularity of the Olympic Games and the worldwide promotion of the Olympic values.”