Feds bust Super Bowl streaming sites (but Brady didn't tip them off)

The New England Patriots' quarterback's comments aren't why agents shut down the illegal sites; the Super Bowl is always a good platform for calling attention to piracy.

Federal agencies took their anti-piracy campaign into the Super Bowl spotlight Feb. 2, shutting down 16 illegal sport-streaming websites and, in a separate operation, confiscating about $5 million in bogus NFL and Super Bowl merchandise.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also helped draw attention to the crackdown, if inadvertently, mentioning to reporters a day earlier that he had watched last year’s Super Bowl on an illegal streaming site.

Federal agents shut down the streaming sites and arrested a Michigan man, Yonjo Quiroa, who allegedly ran nine of the sites, the Wall Street Journal reported.


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A day before the raids, Brady, speaking with reporters in advance of Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and New York Giants in Indianapolis, mentioned in passing how he watched last year’s game. “Last year, I was rehabbing my foot in Costa Rica, watching the game on an illegal Super Bowl website,” he said. “And now I'm actually playing in the game. So, it's pretty cool.”

The timing might make it seem as though Brady’s comments had prompted the Justice Department to take action, but it turns out the Super Bowl is just a good time for law enforcement officials to draw attention to piracy and publicize their efforts. In 2011, for instance, agents shut down 10 streaming sites in advance of the game.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in New York, took the opportunity to talk about the costs of piracy to sports leagues and other holders of intellectual property rights. Meanwhile in Indianapolis, officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection displayed some of the $5 million worth of knock-off jerseys, caps, jackets and other items they confiscated from stores, flea markets and street vendors as part of an ongoing effort.

Part of that ongoing effort, in addition to the crackdowns, is to raise awareness about piracy, and when better to do it than when so many people are paying attention to the Super Bowl?

(It can be an effective tactic. The National Safety Council for decades has publicized holiday weekend death totals on the nation’s highways, even though, statistically, holiday weekends see fewer fatalities that most other times of the year. But people do travel on holidays, they’re with family and friends, and it’s the best time to drive home the point about highway safety.)

As far as the website crackdown itself, it might not have that much of an impact. TorrentFreak reports that one operation that had several sites shutdown, Firstrow, quickly changed domain names and went back into operation. One of Firstrow’s owners told TorrentFreak that he doesn’t think the service is illegal.

And watching the Super Bowl on one of these streaming sites might not be the best option, anyway. James Johnson of the Inquisitor admits that he’s tried illegal streaming sites but, “I’ve found that most of them offer slow streaming, choppy video service and an overall lackluster performance, even if they are often free.”

That’s not much of a recommendation, considering that, this year, you can watch the game online, legally, on the NFL’s site: http://www.nfl.com/superbowl/46.

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