Digital piracy could stop British broadcasters from being able to buy the rights to the most popular sports events, leading intellectual property protection experts have warned.

Last week, London-based MUSO revealed that more than 13 million people worldwide watched American Andy Ruiz Jr knock out Britain’s Anthony Joshua in their heavyweight title clash in New York earlier this month.

The largest unlicensed audience was in Nigeria, where more than 2.3 million boxing fans watched the fight on illegal streams, as did more than 900,000 Britons.

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According to MUSO, the Joshua-Ruiz audience eclipsed the 10 million who watched illegal streams of Tyson Fury’s draw with Deontay Wilder in December, with over 93 per cent watching via YouTube, as opposed to one of the numerous illegal streaming sites that continue to proliferate.

Sky Sports had the UK and Irish rights for the fight, which was on a packed card that included Katie Taylor’s most recent title defence, and charged viewers £19.95. Subscription streaming service DAZN owned the rights in the US.

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1/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Michael Buffer introduces the two boxers inside Madison Square Garden.

Action Images via Reuters

2/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Oleksandr Usyk watches on from ringside as he seeks a potential future shot at Anthony Joshua.

Action Images via Reuters

3/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

James Corden and Jamie Redknapp were two of many famous faces in attendance at the Garden.

Action Images via Reuters

4/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Anthony Joshua prepares for his world title defence against Andy Ruiz Jr

Reuters

5/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua made a cagey start as he attempted to work out Ruiz.

Action Images via Reuters

6/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The first round saw little of note as the two showed caution.

PA

7/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua tried to assert the jab put stayed out of range of Ruiz’s left hook.

Action Images via Reuters

8/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz showed enough to worry Joshua though as he kept the defending champion honest.

PA

9/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Despite the towering difference in size…

Action Images via Reuters

10/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

…Ruiz refused to walk away from the challenge.

Action Images via Reuters

11/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But after finding his range, Joshua started to exert his dominance in the third.

Getty Images

12/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

A thunderous right hand connected with Ruiz early in the round.

Getty Images

13/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The fight changed completely 45 seconds into the third round.

PA

14/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua knocked Ruiz down early in the third round.

Action Images via Reuters

15/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The Mexican-American looked to be heading out of the fight as he staggered back to his feet.

Action Images via Reuters

16/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Miraculously, Ruiz managed to stay in the fight after the knockdown.

AP

17/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But Ruiz stunned everyone when he sent Joshua to the canvas in the same round.

Action Images via Reuters

18/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua looked as shocked as everyone else at the sudden resurgence.

AP

19/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

When Joshua was put down for a second time in the third round, the champion was close to an early exit.

PA

20/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The unthinkable looked to be turning into reality as Joshua just beat the count before the bell.

Action Images via Reuters

21/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The defending champion needed all of the time afforded to him to recover.

Action Images via Reuters

22/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua was able to regain his composure and see through rounds four, five and six.

Action Images via Reuters

23/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But he was floored again in the seventh and this time Ruiz went for the kill.

Getty

24/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

When he went down for the second time in the seventh, the end was nigh.

Action Images via Reuters

25/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua was in big trouble after taking a flurry of punches.

Action Images via Reuters

26/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Referee Mike Griffin ordered a jubilant Ruiz to the neutral corner.

Action Images via Reuters

27/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua had to use the ropes to get back to his feet.

AFP/Getty Images

28/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Griffin’s count continued as Joshua tried to recover.

Action Images via Reuters

29/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua did not respond to the referee’s commands, leading to the fight being waved off.

PA

30/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Griffin waved it off as Joshua did not walk out to him when ordered to.

Getty Images

31/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua reflects on his first defeat of his career.

Reuters

32/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Eddie Hearn confirmed they will seek a rematch for Anthony Joshua against Andy Ruiz Jr

Reuters

33/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz was delighted with the victory as he jumped in the middle of the ring.

AP

34/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz celebrates with his team.

PA

35/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz became the first Mexican heavyweight world champion

PA

36/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The A-listers at ringside could barely believe what had happened.

PA

37/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But Ruiz had done the unthinkable to become unified heavyweight champion.

AP

38/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua paid tribute to Ruiz before leaving the ring.

AFP/Getty Images

1/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Michael Buffer introduces the two boxers inside Madison Square Garden.

Action Images via Reuters

2/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Oleksandr Usyk watches on from ringside as he seeks a potential future shot at Anthony Joshua.

Action Images via Reuters

3/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

James Corden and Jamie Redknapp were two of many famous faces in attendance at the Garden.

Action Images via Reuters

4/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Anthony Joshua prepares for his world title defence against Andy Ruiz Jr

Reuters

5/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua made a cagey start as he attempted to work out Ruiz.

Action Images via Reuters

6/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The first round saw little of note as the two showed caution.

PA

7/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua tried to assert the jab put stayed out of range of Ruiz’s left hook.

Action Images via Reuters

8/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz showed enough to worry Joshua though as he kept the defending champion honest.

PA

9/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Despite the towering difference in size…

Action Images via Reuters

10/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

…Ruiz refused to walk away from the challenge.

Action Images via Reuters

11/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But after finding his range, Joshua started to exert his dominance in the third.

Getty Images

12/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

A thunderous right hand connected with Ruiz early in the round.

Getty Images

13/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The fight changed completely 45 seconds into the third round.

PA

14/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua knocked Ruiz down early in the third round.

Action Images via Reuters

15/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The Mexican-American looked to be heading out of the fight as he staggered back to his feet.

Action Images via Reuters

16/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Miraculously, Ruiz managed to stay in the fight after the knockdown.

AP

17/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But Ruiz stunned everyone when he sent Joshua to the canvas in the same round.

Action Images via Reuters

18/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua looked as shocked as everyone else at the sudden resurgence.

AP

19/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

When Joshua was put down for a second time in the third round, the champion was close to an early exit.

PA

20/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The unthinkable looked to be turning into reality as Joshua just beat the count before the bell.

Action Images via Reuters

21/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The defending champion needed all of the time afforded to him to recover.

Action Images via Reuters

22/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua was able to regain his composure and see through rounds four, five and six.

Action Images via Reuters

23/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But he was floored again in the seventh and this time Ruiz went for the kill.

Getty

24/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

When he went down for the second time in the seventh, the end was nigh.

Action Images via Reuters

25/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua was in big trouble after taking a flurry of punches.

Action Images via Reuters

26/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Referee Mike Griffin ordered a jubilant Ruiz to the neutral corner.

Action Images via Reuters

27/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua had to use the ropes to get back to his feet.

AFP/Getty Images

28/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Griffin’s count continued as Joshua tried to recover.

Action Images via Reuters

29/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua did not respond to the referee’s commands, leading to the fight being waved off.

PA

30/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Griffin waved it off as Joshua did not walk out to him when ordered to.

Getty Images

31/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua reflects on his first defeat of his career.

Reuters

32/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Eddie Hearn confirmed they will seek a rematch for Anthony Joshua against Andy Ruiz Jr

Reuters

33/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz was delighted with the victory as he jumped in the middle of the ring.

AP

34/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz celebrates with his team.

PA

35/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Ruiz became the first Mexican heavyweight world champion

PA

36/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

The A-listers at ringside could barely believe what had happened.

PA

37/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

But Ruiz had done the unthinkable to become unified heavyweight champion.

AP

38/38 Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua paid tribute to Ruiz before leaving the ring.

AFP/Getty Images

Kieron Sharp, the chief executive of intellectual crime-fighters FACT, believes the huge, non-paying audience would have been even higher in the past.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Sharp said: “Examination of the data around the fight shows illegal streams massively down due to real-time anti-piracy measures. There were still thousands of streams but before it was more like hundreds of thousands.

“In terms of lost income, it’s hard to define but it’s clear that the more illegal access there is the harder it is to bring in the funds to purchase the rights for fights such as this.

“Piracy affects all forms of broadcast entertainment but in particular live sporting events. These are a big part of the leisure activities of the majority of the population and it will just not be possible to show them in the future without this revenue stream.

Tyson Fury’s bout against Deontay Wilder was watched by 10m via illegal streams (PA)

“There is a further effect in that people employed within the audio-visual sector and the wider creative industries will eventually lose their jobs.

“This is not scaremongering, it is a reality as the margins in broadcasting are very fine and it is piracy that can often tip the balance.”

MUSO’s chief executive Andy Chatterley likened the fight against digital piracy to a battle with the “Many-Headed Hydra”, as the money and expertise needed to set up an illegal stream have come down, so if you take one down, another pops up.

His company has also been looking at the Premier League. For example, Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in December attracted an illegal global audience of 15.3 million, with 2.1 million in Kenya and 1.5 million in Indonesia – huge lost revenues for the rights-holders in those countries.

One in four of those 15.3 million viewers watched illegal streams on YouTube and nearly three out of five viewers found their streams via Google.

Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in December attracted an illegal global audience of 15.3 million (Getty)

“This isn’t something that only happens in the ‘dark web’ – you don’t have to look that hard for these streams and many people might not even realise they are watching an unlicensed feed,” Chatterley told Press Association Sport.

“We are not condoning digital piracy at all – and rights-holders need protection from those who try to steal their property on an industrial scale – but we are suggesting that broadcasters and sports use the data to make more informed decisions about their audience.

“Why, for example, are these people not subscribing to licensed channels? Is it a price issue? If so, what price?”

For its part, the Premier League is committed to protecting the value of its rights by fighting digital piracy wherever and whenever it can.

Last season, the league blocked or removed 175,000 streams in the UK, worked with police in Thailand and Spain to shut down networks of illegal sites and opened an office in Singapore to help coordinate the fight more locally.

PA

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