I first found Greg Punzo the way most people run across Greg Punzo: via his Twitter feed. A little less than two years ago, I was sitting on my couch in Brooklyn, trying to find a stream of a Patriots game on my computer. A friend suggested I try @greg_punzo. He had a link up and ever since, I've gone there when I want to watch a game that's not on television. Others clearly do as well: more than 23,000 people and counting follow the handle.
Punzo—a libertarian who calls himself an "Internet activist fighting televised monopolies since 2008," openly endorses Gary Johnson, and retweets links supporting Rep. Ron Paul's Nobel Peace Prize nomination—says he's not doing anything illegal. And he's right, at least where the law is concerned. (He used to broadcast streams via Justin.tv, but now he simply tweets links.) Despite that, PayPal froze Punzo's account at the behest of the NFL. They claimed he was charging for the service, which he wasn't. Instead, he asked for donations if users were pleased with what he provided. PayPal sided with the league anyway.
After reading about the issue—through Punzo's Twitter feed, naturally—I reached out for an interview. We chatted over Skype—amusingly enough, Punzo didn't have video capability—about how he got started, battling the NFL, and the success of his feed. "Every time these big-name websites get taken down, I'm always able to find the up-and-comers," he says.
How long have you been doing this?
In the 2008 season, I was a member of a Chicago Bears site SportsFansNetwork.org. There were some people overseas or out of state like I was who couldn't watch Bears games. I realized I had a capture card, which I got for video game streams, and I had a cable box. I broadcast the game one time and a bunch of people came. One thing led to another and long story short, here we are now.
When did you start the Twitter feed?
I started in 2009, but I didn't really start using it until 2010 when everything was taking off.
Are you surprised by the popularity you've gained?
I am, but at the same time I'm not. Before me, there were websites like atdhe.net that got taken down. I am surprised that just using Twitter was able to expand it this far.
How is your interaction with other people? Are they supportive?
I've never had anybody who publicly was against this. It seems like just the NFL. I've never run across anybody who was against it.
Have you talked to anyone about the legal issues?
I've mostly just done my own research. As long as you're not collecting any income or charging people, there aren't any laws against what I'm doing, especially if you are not providing the material yourself. I know of one example where a site was embedding other streams from other websites. They had legal trouble because of the ad revenue that was being collected. But as long as there is no forced income, ad revenue, or third-party revenue being collected, there aren't currently any laws. But if, for example, the SOPA laws were to pass, then it would be illegal.
There might not be any laws against it, but I can see how some people or organizations might see it as a problem. Can you see that side?
Yeah, but there's nothing anyone can go after me for about what I'm doing now. That said, the laws keep changing but you couldn't be tried for something in the past after new laws are established. But I can see the other side of it, for sure.
Have you been contacted directly by the NFL?
No, I haven't.
What happened with PayPal?
The NFL complained I was using PayPal as a sales mechanism, which I had never done or tried to do. PayPal wanted me to either comply with an affidavit, which I'm not going to go through, or file the Objection of Infringement report. Either way, I think that's going too far, especially since it would be so easy to prove [I wasn't charging]. PayPal could contact the individual users who gave money and ask if they were ever charged, but it seems like PayPal is taking the NFL's side. Even my own personal account is frozen right now.
How much had been donated?
It depends on the year, but it was quite a bit, which is surprising because it's all voluntary. It all went back into itself. I was able to get the equipment. Originally, people were wanting higher quality streams. I said that if everyone chips in, I could get equipment. That's how I was able to get such good quality so quickly. Most people would keep the donations for themselves and their channels would never get better. I wasn't the first one or the only one—I actually came pretty late—but I was able to get the Mac Pro I have, the TV tuner, and the capture card as well.
What's your system look like?
[Laughs] It's a spiderweb of cables and it's pretty messy. I can't broadcast anymore, but one of the things I was able to get from the donations was a 30-inch monitor, which really helps a lot because I can view a lot of streams and find things fast.
Is it just you?
I did have quite a few people, but since it's stuck where it is, it's not nearly as many. Now, people will just tweet me a link and I retweet it to everyone else. There's no way to take anything down since I'm not saying it myself. I'm still not sure how it's illegal to post a link to a website you don't own that has copyrighted material.