In a recent landmark ruling the Kenyan High Court granted a wish by MultiChoice the owners of the DStv and Supersport brands that basically force Kenyan Internet Service Providers to block about 44 pirate sports streaming sites. This means that the sites will no longer be easily accessible to Kenyans. MultiChoice is probably hoping that the blocking of these sites will help preserve its pole position as the leading live popular sporting events broadcaster which is under threat from streaming sites as ardent sport lovers will not have any other choice but to pay the TV giant.

A first in Southern Africa

Europe, the United States and other countries would probably be surprised to hear this but Africa, especially Southern Africa has had unfettered access to pretty much the whole of the internet. Site blocking for copyright reasons is relatively unheard of. It is not clear why this is the case though. It could be that copyright holders have thus far been unconcerned of the internet threat given how expensive data is in most African countries. This means only a very small percentage of the population can afford to stream.

That seems to have changed in the case of Kenya and South Africa in particular. There DStv has been losing some of its premium customers to streaming platforms like Netflix. Multichoice the owners of DStv however have an ace up their sleeves. They own most of the rights to popular live sporting events like the EPL, Laliga and many more. While people can switch to streaming platforms the only way to legally watch sporting events is via their popular SuperSport channels. if you want to stream these you can make use of ShowMax Pro which is also a MultiChoice product.

Over the past couple of months ,we have however noticed that more and more users are sharing streaming links via WhatsApp and using these to stream matches on their phones. While an increasing number of people are doing this using Econet’s Private WiFi bundles or NetOne’s OneFi bundles which have become very affordable thanks to the rising rate. It is not clear how much of a problem this is but clearly MultiChoice is not taking any chances and it seems they will defend their empire to the death against streaming threats.

The case in Kenya began in 2019 when MultiChoice Kenya sent take-down notices to a number of illegal sports streaming sites including Rojadirecta, Yalla-shoot and others. Naturally, the owners of these sites ignored these takedown requests as they probably felt secure in their anonymity and the fact that they were in some far away country. MultiChoice did not back down and instead took the case to High Court demanding Kenyan ISPs should block access to these sites.

The whole battle came to conclusion last week when Kenyan High Court Judge Wilfrida Okwany ruled that under the controversial of the Kenyan Copyright Act, ISPs are required to comply with requests from copyright holders to block sites that infringe on their copyrights. Kenya’s ISPs were given 72 hours to comply with the court’s ruling.

A person whose rights have been infringed by content to which access is being offered by an Internet Service Provider may request by way of a takedown notice, that the ISP removes the infringing content.

Section 35B (1) of the Copyright Act

In this case, the ISPs had countered that this section of the law could not apply to them. They were not hosting the content so they could not take it down. The judge sided with MultiChoice’s argument that the creators of the law would also have taken the word takedown to mean that in the event of content that could not be taken down ISPs would be required to make it inaccessible by blocking the infringing sites. This would “remove” the content the judge reasoned.

The floodgates have been opened

In the case of Kenya, the floodgates have been opened and it is hard to see them being closed again. This is but the beginning of the site-blocking movement.It is important to note that for some reason the US and its coterie of rights holders seem to have taken a special interest in Kenya. The law used here was about to be repealed until the US pressured Kenya into keeping it on the books.

This makes it doubtful that the site blocking will spread to other neighbouring countries as they have slightly different copyright laws. However, copyright laws are often broad enough to allow them to be used to obtain site-blocking orders in other countries. So is this the new MultiChoice weapon to preserve its sports supremacy? We do not know. We have contacted a MultiChoice representative0 and they had not yet responded by the time we published the story. This is, however, an interesting development and when they respond we will probably publish a separate article.