For those who didn't want to pony up a $100 pay-per-view price to watch the much hyped boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao Saturday night, there was a free, if somewhat shakier option: catching it live, via social media streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat.
These apps let users record video of what they're doing and live stream it over the Internet. On Saturday, many chose to point their iPhones or tablets at the TV during the fight, giving anyone who tuned into their Twitter feeds a chance to watch for free.
"This is absolutely a new form of piracy," NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson said on "CBS This Morning." "It's definitely something important, it was fascinating to watch, it was a little bit unexpected and it was a big deal."
He added, "If you film your TV and you film HBO's copyrighted material and you make a copy of it, that's a problem."
It was definitely a problem for HBO and Showtime, which partnered to produce the fight. (Showtime is owned by CBS.) Executives at the channels reportedly contacted Twitter-owned Periscope and other apps, requesting that the companies take down copyright-infringing streams while the fight was going on.
The movie industry has long dealt with bootleg copies of new films making their way to DVD or the Internet from people who sneak video cameras into theaters. But this is a bellwether of a new era in piracy in which copies of movies or shows land online simultaneously with TV broadcasts or cinema screenings.
HBO has already taken on Periscope pirates, sending "take down" notices to the company when users streamed the season premier of "Game of Thrones" in April. At the time, Twitter said Periscope complies with U.S. copyright law and that it will respond to valid take-down requests.
Individual users are unlikely to see repercussions from broadcasting copyrighted material, though Periscope could suspend or close accounts that are frequent violators.
Thompson pointed out that new social media platforms tend to be cavalier about piracy in the beginning while they build momentum, then later crack down more stringently. "That's what happened with YouTube," he said. "And presumably that will happen with Meerkat and Periscope."
Never mind the poor quality, says Thompson. Viewers proved this weekend they're willing to sacrifice clarity for some charitable piracy. "They're taking images of their TV screen, of course it's a little shaky, of course it's a little wobbly," he said of those who filmed the fight. "But this is a world in which we're used to watching shaky and wobbly on our phones, so it was kind of OK to a lot of people."
Given that the bout was expected to bring in as much as $400 million in revenue, it's unlikely that illegal streams hurt HBO or Showtime's bottom lines. And while Mayweather walked away with the belt, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo turned to his social media platform and declared Periscope the victor:
"That was the most insane thing about the whole thing," Thomson exclaimed. "The CEO of Twitter -- a mature company -- they're trying to make deals with these people and he's out there praising this. That was nuts."
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