SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight may have been a “win” for Twitter-owned Periscope, but for users who share a copyrighted live event, it could be a major loss — of $150,000 or more in fines per incident.

Periscope co-founder Kayvon Beykpour wrote on Twitter Sunday, “Piracy does not excite us. Trust me, we respect IP rights & had many people working hard to be responsive last night (including myself).”

The law is clear about copyrights, and just like in the peer-to-peer music sharing saga of the Napster age in the early 2000s, copyright infringers themselves could face penalties in the range of $200 clear up to $30,000, or even $150,000 or more for intentional criminal infringement, per copyrighted work, plus other fines and fees.

The boxing battle was sold via pay-per-view at $90 for the standard definition feed, and you could easily have 10,000 people watching your Periscope of the fight.  In fact, someone did get to that number on Saturday.

A jury could decide that you took away potential profits (and then multiply it by each instance) from Showtime and HBO who had the rights to the fight.

If this concept sounds familiar, it should. The tech world and legal world have been here before.

In a 2003 landmark file sharing legal action, the Recording Industry Association of America sued 261 people and continued filing suits for years for copyright infringement.

By 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports 30,000 people had settled cases, had cases filed against them or been threatened with legal action by the RIAA because of copyright infringements over peer-to-peer networks. In one of the cases, four college students settled for between $12,000 and $17,500.

EFF writes, “In Jesse Jordan’s case, the settlement amount ‘happens to be the same amount of money that is the total of his bank account. That is money he has saved up over the course of working three years … to save money for college.’ He later stated that he did not believe he had done anything wrong and had settled to avoid the legal expenses of fighting the lawsuit.”

Anyone who creates a song, a video (including a video feed that can be shot off a screen), a writing, a photo, a piece of art, etc., is the copyright holder and anyone who uses their work without permission can be guilty of infringement depending on how they were using the work, and that can be a federal crime under the Copyright Act.

The law will have to figure out how much of the legal liability lies with the person who held their phone up to the TV to shoot the screen and how much liability lies with the companies that facilitate the sharing, and possibly store the video after the fact.

Purdue University lists copyright infringement penalties as potentially including:
• The actual dollar amount of damages and profits, ranging from from $200 to $150,000 for each work.
• Then, this can be multiplied by each song, each event, each video that is infringed upon.
• Plus attorney fees and court costs.
• And, jail time could be added to the penalty

How these might be applied to live streaming via social media is a new area of the law that is extremely likely to be figured out very quickly, considering the recent unauthorized distribution over social networks of the boxing’s richest prize fight in history.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was vocal about the successful wide-spread use of the app, calling Periscope the night’s true winner.

People on Twitter also chimed in about using Periscope to watch the fight for free.

“The real media story on the fight is about how many people are Periscoping this stuff. Amazing.”

“And the #MayPac winner by unanimous decision… #Periscope”

HBO and Showtime asked Periscope, Meerkat and other live-streaming sources to take down the users’ videos. The two cable companies also filed a joint lawsuit against two other websites that were apparently planning to streamed the fight for free, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Disclosure: CBS, the owner of cbsSF.com is also the owner of Showtime.

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