A few weeks ago, Epic Games released Fortnite’s free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest among gamers.
The release also attracted attention from thousands of cheaters, many of whom were subsequently banned. In addition, Epic Games went a step further by taking several cheaters to court over copyright infringement.
This week the North Carolina-based game developer continued its a war against cheaters. In a new lawsuit, it targets two other cheaters who promoted their hacks through YouTube videos.
One of the defendants is a Swedish resident, Mr. Josefson. He created a cheat and promoted it in various videos, adding instructions on how to download and install it. In common with the previous defendants, he is being sued for copyright infringement.
The second cheater listed in the complaint, a Russian man named Mr. Yakovenko, is more unique. This man also promoted his Fortnite cheats through a series of YouTube videos, but they weren’t very effective.
When Epic downloaded the ‘cheat’ to see how it works, all they got was a Bitcoin miner.
“Epic downloaded the purported cheat from the links provided in Yakovenko’s YouTube videos. While the ‘cheat’ does not appear to be a functional Fortnite cheat, it functions as a bitcoin miner that infects the user’s computer with a virus that causes the user’s computer to mine bitcoin for the benefit of an unknown third party,” the complaint reads.
Despite the non-working cheat, Epic Games maintains that Yakovenko created a cheat for Fortnite’s Battle Royale game mode, pointing to a YouTube video he posted last month.
“The First Yakovenko video and associated post contained instructions on how to download and install the cheat and showed full screen gameplay using the purported cheat,” the complaint reads.
All the videos have since been removed following takedown notices from Epic. Through the lawsuit, the game developer now hopes to get compensation for the damages it suffered.
In addition to the copyright infringement claims the two men are also accused of trademark infringement, unfair competition, and breach of contract.
There’s little doubt that Epic Games is doing its best to hold cheaters accountable. However, the problem is not easy to contain. A simple search for Fortnite Hack or Fortnite Cheat still yields tens of thousands of results, with new videos being added continuously.
A copy of the full complaint against Josefson and Yakovenko is available here (pdf).
Earlier this year, a group of well-known labels targeted Spinrilla, a popular hip-hop mixtape site and app which serves millions of users.
The coalition of record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Bros. Records, and Universal Music Group, filed a lawsuit against the service over alleged copyright infringements.
While the discovery process is still ongoing, Spinrilla recently informed the court that the record labels have “just about derailed” the entire case. The company has submitted a motion for sanctions, which is currently sealed, but additional information submitted to the court this week reveals what’s going on.
When the labels filed their original complaint they listed 210 tracks, without providing the allegedly infringing URLs. These weren’t shared during the early stages of the discovery process either, forcing the site to manually search for potentially infringing links.
Then, early October, Spinrilla received a massive spreadsheet with over 2,000 tracks, including the infringing URLs. This data came from the RIAA and supported the long list of infringements in the amended complaint submitted around the same time.
The spreadsheet would have made the discovery process much easier for Spinrilla. In a supplemental brief supporting a motion for sanctions, Spinrilla accuses the labels of hiding the piracy data from them and lying about it, “derailing” the case in the process.
“Significantly, Plaintiffs used that lie to convince the Court they should be allowed to add about 1,900 allegedly infringed sound recordings to their original list of 210. Later, Plaintiffs repeated that lie to convince the Court to give them time to add even more sound recordings to their list.”
Spinrilla says they were forced to go down an expensive and unnecessary rabbit hole to find the infringing files, even though the RIAA data was available all along.
“By hiding and lying about the RIAA data, Plaintiffs forced Defendants to spend precious time and money fumbling through discovery. Not knowing that Plaintiffs had the RIAA data,” the company writes.
The hip-hop mixtape site argues that the alleged wrongdoing is severe enough to have the entire complaint dismissed, as the ultimate sanction.
“It is without exaggeration to say that by hiding the RIAA spreadsheets and that underlying data, Defendants have been severely prejudiced. The Complaint should be dismissed with prejudice and, if it is, Plaintiffs can only blame themselves,” Spinrilla concludes.
The stakes are certainly high in this case. With well over 2,000 infringing tracks listed in the amended complaint, the hip-hop mixtape site faces statutory damages as high as $300 million, at least in theory.
Spinrilla’s supplement brief in further support of the motion for sanctions is available here (pdf).
Online streaming piracy is booming and many people use dedicated media players to bring this content to their regular TVs.
The bare hardware is not illegal and neither is media player software such as Kodi. When these devices are loaded with copyright-infringing addons, however, they turn into an unprecedented piracy threat.
It becomes even more problematic when the sellers of these devices market their products as pirate tools. This is exactly what TickBox TV does, according to Hollywood’s major movie studios, Netflix, and Amazon.
TickBox is a Georgia-based provider of set-top boxes that allow users to stream a variety of popular media. The company’s devices use the Kodi media player and come with instructions on how to add various add-ons.
In a complaint filed in a California federal court yesterday, Universal, Columbia Pictures, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, Amazon, and Netflix accuse Tickbox of inducing and contributing to copyright infringement.
“TickBox sells ‘TickBox TV,’ a computer hardware device that TickBox urges its customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” the complaint, picked up by THR, reads.
While the device itself does not host any infringing content, users are informed where they can find it.
The movie and TV studios stress that Tickbox’s marketing highlights its infringing uses with statements such as “if you’re tired of wasting money with online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.”
Sick of paying high monthly fees?
“TickBox promotes the use of TickBox TV for overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, infringing purposes, and that is how its customers use TickBox TV. TickBox advertises TickBox TV as a substitute for authorized and legitimate distribution channels such as cable television or video-on-demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix,” the studios’ lawyers write.
The complaint explains in detail how TickBox works. When users first boot up their device they are prompted to download the “TickBox TV Player” software. This comes with an instruction video guiding people to infringing streams.
“The TickBox TV instructional video urges the customer to use the ‘Select Your Theme’ button on the start-up menu for downloading addons. The ‘Themes’ are curated collections of popular addons that link to unauthorized streams of motion pictures and television shows.”
“Some of the most popular addons currently distributed — which are available through TickBox TV — are titled ‘Elysium,’ ‘Bob,’ and ‘Covenant’,” the complaint adds, showing screenshots of the interface.
The movie and TV studios, which are the founding members of the recently launched ACE anti-piracy initiative, want TickBox to stop selling their devices. In addition, they demand compensation for the damages they’ve suffered. Requesting the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per copyright infringement, this can run into the millions.
The involvement of Amazon, albeit the content division, is notable since the online store itself sells dozens of similar streaming devices, some of which even list “infringing” addons.
The TickBox lawsuit is the first case in the United States where a group of major Hollywood players is targeting a streaming device. Earlier this year various Hollywood insiders voiced concerns about the piracy streaming epidemic and if this case goes their way, it probably won’t be the last.
A copy of the full complaint is available here (pdf)
Founded in 1991, Epic has developed and published computer games for over a quarter century.
The North Carolina company is known for titles such as Unreal, Gears of War, Infinity Blade, and most recently, the popular co-op survival and building action game Fortnite.
A few weeks ago, Fortnite released the free-to-play “Battle Royale” game mode for the PC and other platforms, generating massive interest from gamers. Unfortunately, this also included thousands of cheaters, many whom have been banned since.
Last week, Epic stressed that addressing Fortnite cheaters is the company’s highest priority, hinting that they wouldn’t stop at banning users.
“We are constantly working against both the cheaters themselves and the cheat providers. And it’s ongoing, we’re exploring every measure to ensure these cheaters are removed and stay removed from Fortnite Battle Royale and the Epic ecosystem,” the company wrote.
It turns out that this wasn’t an idle threat. TorrentFreak has obtained two complaints that were filed in a North Carolina federal court this week, which show that Epic is launching a legal battle against two prolific cheaters.
The two alleged cheaters are identified as Mr. Broom and Mr. Vraspir. Both are accused of violating Fortnite’s terms of service and EULA by cheating. This involves modifying and changing the game’s code, committing copyright infringement in the process.
“The software that Defendant uses to cheat infringes Epic’s copyrights in the game and breaches the terms of the agreements to which Defendant agreed in order to have access to the game,” the company notes.
From the complaints
The two complaints are largely the same and both defendants are accused of ruining the fun for others.
“Nobody likes a cheater. And nobody likes playing with cheaters. These axioms are particularly true in this case. Defendant uses cheats in a deliberate attempt to destroy the integrity of, and otherwise wreak havoc in, the Fortnite game.
“As Defendant intends, this often ruins the game for the other players, and for the many people who watch ‘streamers’,” the complaint adds.
Both defendants are connected to the cheat provider AddictedCheats.net, either as moderators or support personnel. They specifically target streamers and boast about their accomplishments, making comments such as ‘LOL I f*cked them’ after killing them.
According to Epic’s complaint, Vraspir was banned at least nine times but registered new accounts to continue his cheating. He also stands accused of having written code for the cheats.
Broom was banned once and previously stated that he’s also working on his own cheat. He publicly stated that he aims to create “unwanted chaos and disorder” in Fortnite and said the game was the highest priority of the cheat provider.
With the two lawsuits, the game publisher hopes to put an end to the cheating.
Both defendants face $150,000 in statutory damages for copyright infringement. The complaint further lists breach of contract and circumvention of technological measures as additional claims.
While taking out two cheaters is just a drop in the ocean, Epic is sending a stark warning to people who don’t play by the rules.
Here are copies of the full complaints against Vraspir and Broom.
Late August a ‘piracy disaster‘ struck the makers of The Hitman’s Bodyguard, an action comedy movie featuring Hollywood stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds.
The film was leading the box office charts when, eight days after its theatrical release, a high definition copy hit various pirate sites.
While it’s hard to predict whether the leak substantially impacted the movie’s revenue, the people behind the film are determined to claim damages. They hired the services of “Rights Enforcement,” an outfit which tracks down BitTorrent pirates.
Rights Enforcement sends automated ‘fines’ via DMCA notices, which is cheaper than expensive lawsuits. At the same time, this also makes the settlement process easier to scale, as they can send out tens of thousands of ‘fines’ at once with limited resources, without any oversight from a court.
TorrentFreak has seen several notices targeted at The Hitman’s Bodyguard pirates. While the notices themselves don’t list the settlement fee, recipients are referred to a page that does. Those who admit guilt are asked to pay a $300 settlement fee.
“We have evidence that someone using your Internet service has placed a media file that contains the protected content for our client’s motion picture in a shared folder location and is enabling others to download copies of this content,” the notices warn.
Part of the DMCA notice
The text, which is forwarded by several ISPs, is cleverly worded. The account holders in question are notified that if the issue isn’t resolved, they may face a lawsuit.
“You may consider this a notice of potential lawsuit, a demand for the infringing activity to terminate, and a demand for damages from the actual infringer. We invite your voluntary cooperation in assisting us with this matter, identifying the infringer, and ensuring that this activity stops. Should the infringing activity continue we may file a civil lawsuit seeking judicial relief.”
The email points users to the settlement portal where they can review the claim and a possible solution. In this case, “resolving” the matter will set account holders back a hefty $300.
People are free to ignore the claim, of course, but Rights Enforcement warns that if the infringements continue they might eventually be sued.
“If you do not settle the claim and you continue to infringe then odds are you will eventually be sued and face substantial civil liability. So first thing is to stop the activity and make sure you are not involved with infringing activity in the future.”
The notice also kindly mentions that the recipients can contact an attorney for legal advice. However, after an hour or two a legal bill will have exceeded the proposed settlement amount, so for many this isn’t really an option.
It’s quite a clever scheme. Although most people probably won’t be sued for ignoring a notice, there’s always the possibility that they will. Especially since Rights Enforcement is linked to some of the most prolific copyright trolls.
The company, which emerged earlier this year, is operated by lawyer Carl Crowell who is known for his work with movie studios such as Voltage Pictures. In the past, he filed lawsuits for several films such as Dallas Buyers Club and The Hurt Locker.
When faced with a threat of an expensive lawsuit, even innocent subscribers may be inclined to pay the settlement. They should be warned, however, once the first payment is made, many similar requests may follow.
Earlier this year the American Chemical Society (ACS), a leading source of academic publications in the field of chemistry, filed a lawsuit against Sci-Hub and its operator Alexandra Elbakyan.
The non-profit organization publishes tens of thousands of articles a year in its peer-reviewed journals. Because many of these are available for free on Sci-Hub, ACS wants to be compensated.
Sci-Hub was made aware of the legal proceedings but did not appear in court. As a result, a default was entered against the site. In addition to millions of dollars in damages, ACS also requested third-party Internet intermediaries to take action against the site.
While the request is rather unprecedented for the US, as it includes search engine and ISP blocking, Magistrate Judge John Anderson has included these measures in his recommendations.
Judge Anderson agrees that Sci-Hub is guilty of copyright and trademark infringement. In addition to $4,800,000 in statutory damages, he recommends a broad injunction that would require search engines, ISPs, domain registrars and other services to block Sci-Hub’s domain names.
“… the undersigned recommends that it be ordered that any person or entity in privity with Sci-Hub and with notice of the injunction, including any Internet search engines, web hosting and Internet service providers, domain name registrars, and domain name registries, cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites through which Sci-Hub engages in unlawful access to, use, reproduction, and distribution of ACS’s trademarks or copyrighted works.”
In addition to the above, domain registries and registrars will also be required to suspend Sci-Hub’s domain names. This also happened previously in a different lawsuit, but Sci-Hub swiftly moved to a new domain at the time.
“Finally, the undersigned recommends that it be ordered that the domain name registries and/or registrars for Sci-Hub’s domain names and websites, or their technical administrators, shall place the domain names on registryHold/serverHold or such other status to render the names/sites non-resolving,” the recommendation adds.”
If the U.S. District Court Judge adopts this recommendation, it would mean that Internet providers such as Comcast could be ordered to block users from accessing Sci-Hub. That’s a big deal since pirate site blockades are not common in the United States.
This would likely trigger a response from affected Internet services, who generally want to avoid being dragged into these cases. They would certainly don’t want such far-reaching measure to be introduced through a default order.
Sci-Hub itself doesn’t seem to be too bothered by the blocking prospect or the millions in damages it faces. The site has a Tor version which can’t be blocked by Internet providers, so determined scientists will still be able to access the site if they want.
Magistrate Judge John Anderson’s full findings of fact and recommendations are available here (pdf).
When copyright infringement lawsuits hit the US courts, there’s often a serious case at hand. Whether that’s the sharing of a leaked movie online or indeed the mass infringement that allegedly took place on Megaupload, there’s usually something quite meaty to discuss.
A lawsuit filed this week in a Pennsylvania federal court certainly provides the later, but without managing to be much more than a fairly trivial matter in the first instance.
The case was filed by sports psychologist and author Dr. Keith Bell. It begins by describing Bell as an “internationally recognized performance consultant” who has worked with 500 teams, including the Olympic and national teams for the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Fiji, and the Cayman Islands.
Bell is further described as a successful speaker, athlete and coach; “A four-time
collegiate All-American swimmer, a holder of numerous world and national masters swim records, and has coached several collegiate, high school, and private swim teams to competitive success.”
At the heart of the lawsuit is a book that Bell published in 1982, entitled Winning Isn’t Normal.
“The book has enjoyed substantial acclaim, distribution and publicity. Dr. Bell is the sole author of this work, and continues to own all rights in the work,” the lawsuit (pdf) reads.
Bell claims that on or about November 6, 2015, King’s College head football coach Jeffery Knarr retweeted a tweet that was initially posted from @NSUBaseball32, a Twitter account operated by Northeastern State University’s RiverHawks baseball team. The retweet, as shown in the lawsuit, can be seen below.
The retweet that sparked the lawsuit
“The post was made without authorization from Dr. Bell and without attribution
to Dr. Bell,” the lawsuit reads.
“Neither Defendant King’s College nor Defendant Jeffery Knarr contacted Dr.
Bell to request permission to use Dr. Bell’s copyrighted work. As of November 14, 2015, the post had received 206 ‘Retweets’ and 189 ‘Likes.’ Due to the globally accessible nature of Twitter, the post was accessible by Internet users across the world.”
Bell says he sent a cease and desist letter to NSU in September 2016 and shortly thereafter NSU removed the post, which removed the retweets. However, this meant that Knarr’s retweet had been online for “at least” 10 months and 21 days.
To put the icing on the cake, Bell also holds the trademark to the phrase “Winning Isn’t Normal”, so he’s suing Knarr and his King’s College employer for trademark infringement too.
“The Defendants included Plaintiff’s trademark twice in the Twitter post. The first instance was as the title of the post, with the mark shown in letters which
were emphasized by being capitalized, bold, and underlined,” the lawsuit notes.
“The second instance was at the end of the post, with the mark shown in letters which were emphasized by being capitalized, bold, underlined, and followed by three
Describing what appears to be a casual retweet as “willful, intentional and purposeful” infringement carried out “in disregard of and with indifference to Plaintiff’s rights,” Bell demands damages and attorneys fees from Knarr and his employer.
“As a direct and proximate result of said infringement by Defendants, Plaintiff is
entitled to damages in an amount to be proven at trial,” the lawsuit concludes.
Since the page from the book retweeted by Knarr is a small portion of the overall work, there may be a fair use defense. Nevertheless, defending this kind of suit is never cheap, so it’s probably fair to say there will already be a considerable amount of regret among the defendants at ever having set eyes on Bell’s 35-year-old book.
Initially, the true identities of the defendants unknown and listed as John Does, but an amended complaint that was submitted yesterday reveal their alleged names and hometowns.
The Texas court previously granted subpoenas which allowed Dish to request information from the defendants’ accounts on services including Amazon, Github, Google, Twitter, Facebook and PayPal, which likely helped with the identification.
According to Dish ZemTV was developed by Shahjahan Durrani, who’s based in London, UK. He allegedly controlled and maintained the addon which was used to stream infringing broadcasts of Dish content.
“Durrani developed the ZemTV add-on and managed and operated the ZemTV service. Durrani used the aliases ‘Shani’ and ‘Shani_08′ to communicate with users of the ZemTV service,” the complaint reads.
The owner and operator of TVAddons is listed as Adam Lackman, who resides in Montreal, Canada. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, since Lackman is publicly listed as TVAddons’ owner on Linkedin and was previously named in a Canadian lawsuit.
While both defendants are named, the allegations against them haven’t changed substantially. Both face copyright infringement charges and potentially risk millions of dollars in damages.
Durrani directly infringed Dish’s copyrights by making the streams available, the plaintiffs note. Lackman subsequently profited from this and failed to take any action in response.
“Lackman had the legal right and actual ability to supervise and control this infringing activity because Lackman made the ZemTV add-on, which is necessary to access the ZemTV service, available for download on his websites.
“Lackman refused to take any action to stop the infringement of DISH’s exclusive rights in the programs transmitted through the ZemTV service,” the complaint adds.
TorrentFreak spoke to a TVAddons representative who refutes the copyright infringement allegations. The website sees itself as a platform for user-generated content and cites the DMCA’s safe harbor as a defense.
“TV ADDONS is not a piracy site, it’s a platform for developers of open source add-ons for the Kodi media center. As a community platform filled with user-generated content, we have always acted in accordance with the law and swiftly complied whenever we received a DMCA takedown notice.”
The representative states that it will be very difficult for them to defend themselves against a billion dollar company with unlimited resources, but hopes that the site will prevail.
The new TVAddons
After the original TVAddons.ag domain was seized in the Canadian lawsuit the site returned on TVaddons.co. However, hundreds of allegedly infringing add-ons are no longer listed.
The site previously relied on the DMCA to shield it from liability but apparently, that wasn’t enough. As a result, they now check all submitted add-ons carefully.
“Since complying with the law is clearly not enough to prevent frivolous legal action from being taken against you, we have been forced to implement a more drastic code vetting process,” the TVAddons representative says.
If it’s not entirely clear that an add-on is properly licensed, it won’t be submitted for the time being. This hampers innovation, according to TVAddons, and threatens many communities that rely on user-generated content.
“When you visit any given web site, how can you be certain that every piece of media you see is licensed by the website displaying it? You can assume, but it’s very difficult to be certain. That’s why the DMCA is critical to the existence of online communities.”
Now that both defendants have been named the case will move forward. This may eventually lead to an in-depth discovery process where Dish will try to find more proof that both were knowingly engaging in infringing activity.
Durrani and Lackman, on the other hand, will try to prove their innocence.
A copy of the amended complaint is available here (pdf).
Can an Internet provider be held liable for subscribers who share pirated files? Yes, a Virginia federal jury ruled two years ago.
This verdict caused great uncertainty in the ISP industry, as several companies suddenly realized that they could become the next target.
Internet provider Windstream is among the companies that are worried about the fallout. With 1.1 million subscribers nationwide, it is one of the larger Internet providers in the United States. As such, it receives takedown notices on a regular basis.
Many of these notices come from music rights group BMG, which accused Windstream and its subscribers of various copyright infringements. These notices are issued by the monitoring outfit Rightscorp and often come with a settlement demand for the account holders.
When Windstream refused to forward these notices, as it’s not required to do so by law, BMG and Rightscorp increased the pressure. They threatened that the ISP could be liable for millions of dollars in piracy damages for failing to disconnect repeat infringers.
Faced with this threat, Windstream filed a request for declaratory judgment at a New York District Court last year, requesting a legal ruling on the matter. This preemptive lawsuit didn’t turn out as planned for the ISP.
In April the court ruled that there is no ‘actual controversy’ and that it can’t issue a hypothetical and advisory opinion without concrete facts. As such, the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
Windstream didn’t throw in the towel right away though and appealed the verdict. The ISP argued that the $150,000 in damages per infringement BMG claimed caused a real controversy.
“BMG’s accusations were not idle threats in light of the undisputed fact that BMG had recently obtained a $25,000,000 recovery against another conduit ISP based on similar claims,” the ISP wrote in a brief last month.
“Thus, the undisputed facts conclusively establish that an actual controversy exists to support Windstream’s request for a declaration that it is not liable for any alleged infringement of BMG’s copyrights.”
Despite Windstream’s initial persistence, something changed in recent weeks. Without any prior signs in the court docket, the company has now asked the Judge to dismiss the case entirely, with both parties paying their own costs.
“Windstream respectfully requests that this Court dismiss in full Windstream’s present appeal with prejudice against BMG and Rightscorp, with each party bearing its own costs in this appeal.”
While there is no mention of a settlement of any kind, BMG and Rightscorp do not oppose the request. This effectively means that the case is over. The same previously happened in a similar lawsuit, where Internet provider RCN demanded a declaratory judgment.
This means that all eyes are once again on the case between BMG and Cox Communications, which got this all started and is currently under appeal.
Founded way back in 2006, SwePiracy grew to become one of the most famous private torrent sites on the Swedish scene. Needless to say, it also became a target for anti-piracy outfits.
Six years after its debut and following an investigation by anti-piracy group Antipiratbyrån (now Rights Alliance), during 2012 police in Sweden and the Netherlands cooperated to shut down the site and arrest its operator.
In early 2016, more than four years on, SwePiracy’s then 25-year-old operator appeared in court to answer charges relating to the unlawful distribution of a sample 27 movies between March 2011 and February 2012. The prosecution demanded several years in prison and nearly $3.13 million (25 million kronor) in damages.
SwePiracy defense lawyer Per E. Samuelsson, who previously took part in The Pirate Bay trial, said the claims against his client were the most unreasonable he’d seen in his 35 years as a lawyer.
In October 2016, three weeks after the full trial, the Norrköping District Court handed down its decision. Given some of the big numbers being thrown around, the case seemed to turn out relatively well for the defendant.
While SwePiracy’s former operator was found guilty of copyright infringement, the prosecution’s demands for harsh punishment were largely pushed aside. A jail sentence was switched to probation plus community service, and the millions of dollars demanded in damages were reduced to ‘just’ $148,000, payable to movie outfit Nordisk Film. On top, $45,600 said to have been generated by SwePiracy was confiscated.
Almost immediately both sides announced an appeal, with the defendant demanding a more lenient sentence and the prosecution naturally leaning the other way. This week the case was heard at the Göta Court of Appeal, one of the six appellate courts in the Swedish system.
“We state that the District Court made an inaccurate assessment of the damages. So the damages claim remains at the same level as before,” Rights Alliance lawyer Henrik Pontén told Sweden’s IDG.
“There are two different approaches. We say that you have to pay for the entire license [for content when you infringe]. The District Court looked at how many times the movies were downloaded during the period.”
According to Pontén, the cost of such a license is hypothetical since there are no licenses available for distributing content through entities such as torrent sites, which have no mechanisms for control and no limits on sharing. That appears to have motivated the prosecution to demand a hefty price tag.
In addition to Rights Alliance wanting a better deal for their theoretical license, the official prosecutor also has issues with the amount of money that was confiscated from the platform.
“The operator has received donations to run the site. I have calculated how much money was received and the sum that the District Court awarded was almost half of my calculations,” Henrik Rasmusson told IDG.
Only time will tell how the Court of Appeal will rule but it’s worth noting that the decision could go either way or might even stand as it is now. In any event, this case has dragged on for far too long already and is unlikely to end positively for any of the parties involved.
In June, a New York District Court handed down a default judgment against Sci-Hub.
The pirate site, operated by Alexandra Elbakyan, was ordered to pay $15 million in piracy damages to academic publisher Elsevier.
With the ink on this order barely dry, another publisher soon tagged on with a fresh complaint. The American Chemical Society (ACS), a leading source of academic publications in the field of chemistry, also accused Sci-Hub of mass copyright infringement.
Founded more than 140 years ago, the non-profit organization has around 157,000 members and researchers who publish tens of thousands of articles a year in its peer-reviewed journals. Because many of its works are available for free on Sci-Hub, ACS wants to be compensated.
Sci-Hub was made aware of the legal proceedings but did not appear in court. As a result, a default was entered against the site, and a few days ago ACS specified its demands, which include $4.8 million in piracy damages.
“Here, ACS seeks a judgment against Sci-Hub in the amount of $4,800,000—which is based on infringement of a representative sample of publications containing the ACS Copyrighted Works multiplied by the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 for each publication,” they write.
The publisher notes that the maximum statutory damages are only requested for 32 of its 9,000 registered works. This still adds up to a significant sum of money, of course, but that is needed as a deterrent, ACS claims.
“Sci-Hub’s unabashed flouting of U.S. Copyright laws merits a strong deterrent. This Court has awarded a copyright holder maximum statutory damages where the defendant’s actions were ‘clearly willful’ and maximum damages were necessary to ‘deter similar actors in the future’,” they write.
Although the deterrent effect may sound plausible in most cases, another $4.8 million in debt is unlikely to worry Sci-Hub’s owner, as she can’t pay it off anyway. However, there’s also a broad injunction on the table that may be more of a concern.
The requested injunction prohibits Sci-Hub’s owner to continue her work on the site. In addition, it also bars a wide range of other service providers from assisting others to access it.
Specifically, it restrains “any Internet search engines, web hosting and Internet service providers, domain name registrars, and domain name registries, to cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites through which Defendant Sci-Hub engages in unlawful access to [ACS’s works].”
The above suggests that search engines may have to remove the site from their indexes while ISPs could be required to block their users’ access to the site as well, which goes quite far.
Since Sci-Hub is in default, ACS is likely to get what it wants. However, if the organization intends to enforce the order in full, it’s likely that some of these third-party services, including Internet providers, will have to spring into action.
While domain name registries are regularly ordered to suspend domains, search engine removals and ISP blocking are not common in the United States. It would, therefore, be no surprise if this case lingers a little while longer.
A copy of ACS’s proposed default judgment, obtained by TorrentFreak, is available here (pdf).
Earlier this week, TF reported on the surprise retirement of established and respected Kodi addon developer, MetalKettle.
After several years of producing and distributing a wide range of addons for the popular media center, ‘MK’ threw in the towel.
“Over the past year or so Kodi has become more mainstream and public we’ve all seen the actions of others become highlighted legally, with authorities determined to target 3rd party addons making traction,” MK announced.
“This has eventually caused me to consider ‘what if?’ – the result of which never ends well in my mind.”
The “what if?” here is whether MK himself would ever find himself targeted by legal action. As the recent case filed against Kodi addons site TVAddons by Bell, Videotron, Groupe TVA, and Rogers shows, copyright holders are prepared to act aggressively to protect their rights.
While we don’t doubt MK’s reasons for retirement, it now transpires that MK was already in the spotlight of Plex Inc., the company behind Plex. They seem particularly unimpressed with some of his recent work.
Plex is a system which allows users to manage and organize their entire media library, import artwork and all kinds of metadata, and then stream it to any device, such as TVs, phones, and set-top boxes.
For people with content already around it’s a beautiful Netflix-beating system that’s free to use up to a point, but it also comes with premium features as part of a $5pm Plex Pass subscription. Those extras include a Kodi addon.
“Currently available as a preview to our premium Plex Pass subscribers, the Plex for Kodi add-on gives users the best of both worlds; the advanced customization of Kodi home theater and the beauty and simplicity of Plex for access on any device, anywhere, anytime,” the Plex site reads.
MK Plex, the addon produced by MetalKettle, unlocks the restrictions. Installable in Kodi with just a few clicks, the addon allows users of Plex to achieve the above without the need for a Plex Pass subscription. The addon was submitted by MK to the TVAddons repository last week but it took only days for Plex’s legal department to swing into action.
TorrentFreak obtained a copy of the company’s letter to TVAddons from a source close to the platform.
“We represent Plex, Inc. of Los Gatos, California, USA (‘Plex’) in trademark and other intellectual property legal matters. Plex recently learned that you offer a software product called MK Plex that is promoted on [your] website,” it begins.
“The designation MK Plex infringes on Plex’s intellectual property rights and therefore Plex hereby demands that you remove all web pages that use the designation MK Plex, delete all software branded MK Plex and disable all downloading, and cease all other use of Plex’s trademarks immediately.”
While this request would’ve been enough for TVAddons to respond, the lawyers went on in some detail about trademark issues, reiterating that “the designation ‘unofficial plugin’ indicates that your use of MK Plex is intended to trade on the reputation and goodwill of the Plex brand.”
In summary, Plex said that by presenting itself as an unofficial plug-in, MK Plex infringes trademark and unfair competition law in the United States. There was no mention at all of the features provided by the software, the entire issue was framed as a trademark dispute.
Plex’s lawyers continued by threatening formal legal action against TVAddons, including a claim for damages and a court order to shut down the entire site. That’s pretty aggressive for a letter that references an addon that was completely produced by a third-party. Nevertheless, TVAddons informs TF that it had no problem complying with Plex’s takedown request as a matter of urgency.
“We love Plex and would never do anything to cause them grief. The user generated addon in question should never have made its way into our repository in the first place and we apologize for that,” a site representative said.
“We’d like to stress, however, that we took swift action as soon as Plex made us aware of the issue. This is why it’s so important that all web sites with user generated institute a legitimate takedown notice system, so that issues like this can be amicably resolved much faster than they could be in court, without any harm done to either party. TV ADDONS has always and will continue to respect the rights of others.”
TVAddons doesn’t know if MK himself is fully aware of the problem Plex has with his addon or whether he’s going to put it into retirement along with himself. However, the undertone in our conversation indicated that might be a prudent course of action.
TVAddons said they responded immediately to all of Plex’s demands and were thanked for dealing with the matter comprehensively, so it’s at least possible that MK has similar options available.
While a trademark dispute for a Kodi addon is interesting enough, this case offers a perfect illustration of how problems with intellectual property can be worked through, if the parties are prepared to work together. In the ongoing case of the Canadian broadcasters against TVAddons, not a single takedown notice or piece of correspondence was sent to TVAddons in advance of super-aggressive legal action.
Had a simple email been sent, the problem could’ve been solved in a day, rather than the years currently expected.
ABS-CBN, the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines, continues its legal campaign against pirate sites in the US.
The company has singled out dozens of streaming sites that offer access to ‘Pinoy’ content without permission, both in the US and abroad.
This week a federal court in Florida signed a default judgment against KissAsian, one of the biggest targets thus far. Since the defendants failed to show up it was a relatively easy win.
The lawsuit in question was filed in February and accused KissAsian of both copyright and trademark infringement. According to ABS-CBN, the site was using its trademarks and copyrighted content to draw visitors and generate profit.
“ABS-CBN is suffering irreparable and indivisible injury and has suffered substantial damages as a result of Defendant’sunauthorized and unlawful use of the ABS-CBN Marks and Copyrighted Works,” the complaint read.
When the operators of the pirate site failed to respond to the allegations, the media company asked for a default judgment. United States District Judge William Dimitrouleas has now approved the company’s request, granting it $1 million in trademark damages, and another $810,000 for copyright infringement.
In addition, the judge granted a request to hand over the KissAsian.com domain name to ABS-CBN, which hasn’t happened thus far.
While the order is a clear win for the Philippine media conglomerate, it might be hard to recoup the damages from the unknown operators of the site. In fact, it doesn’t appear that the site is going to cease its activities anytime soon, as the order requires.
Soon after KissAsian.com was put at risk, the site’s operators simply relocated to a new domain name; KissAsian.ch.
“We are transferring domain, new domain is kissasian.ch, and kissasian beta mirror is not working temporarily, it will be done in next 5-10mins. Sorry for the inconvenience!” a statement on Facebook reads.
In the months that preceded the January 2012 raid on file-storage site Megaupload, authorities in New Zealand used the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) spy agency to monitor Kim and Mona Dotcom, plus Megaupload co-defendant Bram van der Kolk.
When this fact was revealed it developed into a crisis. The GCSB was forbidden by law from conducting surveillance on its own citizens or permanent residents in the country, which led to former Prime Minister John Key later apologizing for the error.
With Dotcom determined to uncover the truth, the entrepreneur launched legal action in pursuit of the information illegally obtained by GCSB and to obtain compensation. In July, the High Court determined that Dotcom wouldn’t get access to the information but it also revealed that the scope of the spying went on much longer than previously admitted, a fact later confirmed by the police.
This raised the specter that not only did the GCSB continue to spy on Dotcom after it knew it was acting illegally, but that an earlier affidavit from a GCSB staff member was suspect.
With the saga continuing to drag on, revelations published in New Zealand this morning indicate that not only was the spying on Dotcom illegal, the entire spying operation – which included his Megaupload co-defendants – was too.
The reports are based on documents released by Lawyer Peter Spring, who is acting for Bram van der Kolk and Mathias Ortmann. Spring says that the High Court decision, which dates back to December but has only just been made available, shows that “the whole surveillance operation fell outside the authorization of the GCSB legislation as it was at the relevant time”.
Since Dotcom is a permanent resident of New Zealand, it’s long been established that the GCSB acted illegally when it spied on him. As foreigners, however, Megaupload co-defendants Finn Batato and Mathias Ortmann were previously considered valid surveillance targets.
It now transpires that the GCSB wasn’t prepared to mount a defense or reveal its methods concerning their surveillance, something which boosted the case against it.
“The circumstances of the interceptions of Messrs Ortmann and Batato’s communications are Top Secret and it has not proved possible to plead to the allegations the plaintiffs have made without revealing information which would jeopardize the national security of New Zealand,” the Court documents read.
“As a result the GCSB is deemed to have admitted the allegations in the statement of claim which relate to the manner in which the interceptions were effected.”
Speaking with RadioNZ, Grant Illingworth, a lawyer representing Ortmann and van der Kolk, said the decision calls the entire GCSB operation into doubt.
“The GCSB has now admitted that the unlawfulness was not just dependent upon residency issues, it went further. The reason it went further was because it didn’t have authorization to carry out the kind of surveillance that it was carrying out under the legislation, as it was at that time,” Illingworth said.
In comments to NZHerald, Illingworth added that the decision meant that the damages case for Ortmann and van der Kolk had come to an end. He refused to respond to questions of whether damages had been paid or a settlement reached.
He did indicate, however, that there could be implications for the battle underway to have Dotcom, Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk extradited to the United States.
“If there was illegality in the arrest and search phase and that illegality has not previously been made known in the extradition context then it could be relevant to the extradition,” Illingworth said.
In November 2011, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), with support from Finnish anti-piracy group Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Center (CIAPC), filed a lawsuit in the Helsinki District Court against The Pirate Bay.
IFPI, which represents the world’s major labels, demanded that the site’s operators stop facilitating the unauthorized distribution of music and pay compensation to IFPI and CIAPC-affiliated rightsholders for the damages caused through their website.
Progress in the case has been somewhat glacial but this morning, almost six years after the complaint was first filed, a decision was handed down.
Fredrik Neij and Gottfrid Svartholm, two founder members of the site, were ordered by the District Court to cease-and-desist the illegal operations of The Pirate Bay. They were also ordered to jointly and severally pay compensation to IFPI record labels to the tune of 405,000 euros ($477,000).
The Court was reportedly unable to contact Neij (aka TiAMO) or Svartholm (aka Anakata) in connection with the case. With no response received from the defendants by the deadline, the Court heard the case in their absence, handing a default judgment to the plaintiffs.
Last year a similar verdict was handed down by the Helsinki District Court to Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.
Sony Music Entertainment Finland, Universal Music, Warner Music, and EMI Finland sued Sunde claiming that the music of 60 of their artists has been shared illegally through The Pirate Bay.
Sunde was also found liable in his absence and ordered to pay the major labels around 350,000 euros ($412,000) in damages and 55,000 euros ($65,000) in costs. He later announced plans to sue the labels for defamation.
“I’m a public person in Finland and they’re calling me a criminal when they KNOW I’m not involved in what they’re suing me for,” Sunde told TorrentFreak at the time. “It’s defamation.”
Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, and Peter Sunde all owe large sums of money to copyright holders following decisions relating to The Pirate Bay dating back at least eight years. In all cases, the plaintiffs have recovered nothing so the latest judgment only seems likely to add to the growing list of unpaid bills.
Meanwhile, The Pirate Bay sails on, seemingly oblivious to the news.
As one of China’s top 10 Internet companies, Xunlei is a massive operation with hundreds of millions of monthly users.
Among other file-sharing ventures, Xunlei operates ‘Thunder’, the world’s most popular torrent client. This and other almost inevitable copyright-related issues put the company on the radar of the MPAA.
With Xunlei pursuing an IPO in the United States in 2014, relationships with the MPAA began to thaw, resulting in the breakthrough signing of a Content Protection Agreement (CPA) requiring Xunlei to protect MPAA studio content including movies and TV shows.
But in October 2014, with things clearly not going to plan, the MPAA reported Xunlei to the U.S. government, complaining of rampant piracy on the service. In January 2015, the MPAA stepped up a gear and sued Xunlei for copyright infringement.
“For too long we have witnessed valuable creative content being taken and monetized without the permission of the copyright owner. That has to stop and stop now,” said MPAA Asia-Pacific chief Mike Ellis.
Now, more than two-and-a-half years later, the case has come to a close. Yesterday, the Shenzhen Nanshan District People’s Court found Xunlei Networking Technologies Co. guilty of copyright infringement.
The Court found that Xunlei made 28 movie titles (belonging to companies including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Disney and Warner Bros.) available to the public via its platforms without proper authorization, “in serious violation” of the movie group’s rights.
Xunlei was ordered to cease-and-desist and told to pay compensation of 1.4 million yuan ($210,368) plus the MPA’s litigation costs of $24,400. In its original complaint, the MPA demanded a public apology from Xunlei but it’s unclear whether that forms part of the ruling. The outcome was welcomed by the MPA.
“We are heartened that the court in Shenzhen has found in favor of strong copyright,” said MPAA Asia-Pacific chief Mike Ellis.
“The legitimate Chinese film and television industry has worked hard to provide audiences with a wide range of legal options for their audio-visual entertainment — a marketplace that has flourished because of the rights afforded to copyright owners under the law.”
How the MPAA and Xunlei move ahead from here is unclear. This case has taken more than two-and-a-half years to come to a conclusion so further litigation seems somewhat unlikely, if not unwieldy. Then there’s the question of the anti-piracy agreement signed in 2014 and whether that is still on the table.
As previously revealed, the agreement not only compelled Xunlei to use pre-emptive content filtering technology but also required the platform to terminate the accounts of people who attempt to infringe copyright in any way.
“[The] filter will identify each and every instance of a user attempting to infringe a studio work, by uploading or downloading,” an internal MPAA document revealed.
All that being said, the document also contained advice for the MPAA not to sue Xunlei, so at this point anything could happen.
One of the oldest methods of trying to get people to stop downloading and sharing pirated material is by hitting them with ‘fines’.
The RIAA began the practice in September 2003, tracking people sharing music on early peer-to-peer networks, finding out their identities via ISPs, and sending them cease-and-desist orders with a request to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Many thousands of people were fined and the campaign raised awareness, but it did nothing to stop millions of file-sharers who continue to this day.
That’s something that Village Roadshow co-chief Graham Burke now wants to do something about. He says his company will effectively mimic the RIAA’s campaign of 14 years ago and begin suing Internet pirates Down Under. He told AFR that his company is already setting things up, ready to begin suing later in the year.
Few details have been made available at this stage but it’s almost certain that Village Roadshow’s targets will be BitTorrent users. It’s possible that users of other peer-to-peer networks could be affected but due to their inefficiency and relative obscurity, it’s very unlikely.
That leaves users of The Pirate Bay and any other torrent site vulnerable to the company, which will jump into torrent swarms masquerading as regular users, track IP addresses, and trace them back to Internet service providers. What happens next will depend on the responses of those ISPs.
If the ISPs refuse to cooperate, they will have to be taken to court to force them to hand over the personal details of their subscribers to Village Roadshow. It’s extremely unlikely they’ll hand them over voluntarily, so it could be some time before any ISP customer hears anything from the film distributor.
The bottom line is that Village Roadshow will want money to go away and Burke is already being open over the kind of sums his company will ask for.
“We will be looking for damages commensurate with what they’ve done. We’ll be saying ‘You’ve downloaded our Mad Max: Fury Road, our Red Dog, and we want $40 for the four movies plus $200 in costs’,” he says.
While no one will relish any kind of ‘bill’ dropping through a mail box, in the scheme of things a AUS$240 settlement demand isn’t huge, especially when compared to the sums demanded by companies such as Voltage Pictures, who tried and failed to start piracy litigation in Australia two years ago.
However, there’s even better news for some, who have already been given a heads-up that they won’t have to pay anything.
“We will identify people who are stealing our product, we will ask them do they have ill health or dire circumstances, and if they do and undertake to stop, we’ll drop the case,” Burke says.
While being upfront about such a policy has its pros and cons, Burke is also reducing his range of targets, particularly if likes to be seen as a man of his word, whenever those words were delivered. In March 2016, when he restated his intention to begin suing pirates, he also excluded some other groups from legal action.
“We don’t want to sue 16-year-olds or mums and dads,” Burke said. “It takes 18 months to go through the courts and all that does is make lawyers rich and clog the court system. It’s not effective.”
It will remain to be seen what criteria Village Roadshow ultimately employs but it’s likely the company will be asked to explain its intentions to the court, when it embarks on the process to discover alleged pirates’ identities. When it’s decided who is eligible, Burke says the gloves will come off, with pirates being “pursued vigorously” and “sued for damages.”
While Village Roadshow’s list of films is considerable, any with a specifically Australian slant seem the most likely to feature in any legal action. Burke tends to push the narrative that he’s looking after local industry so something like Mad Max: Fury Road would be perfect. It would also provide easy pickings for any anti-piracy company seeking to harvest Aussie IP addresses since it’s still very popular.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Australians who use pirate streaming services will be completely immune to the company’s planned lawsuit campaign. However, Burke appears to be tackling that threat using a couple of popular tactics currently being deployed elsewhere by the movie industry.
“Google are not doing enough and could do a lot more,” he told The Australian (subscription)
Burke said that he was “shocked” at how easy it was to find streaming content using Google’s search so decided to carry out some research of his own at home. He said he found Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk with no difficulty but that came with a sting in the tail.
According to the movie boss, his computer was immediately infected with malware and began asking for his credit card details. He doesn’t say whether he put them in.
As clearly the world’s most unlucky would-be movie pirate, Burke deserves much sympathy. It’s also completely coincidental that Hollywood is now pushing a “danger” narrative to keep people away from pirate sites.
Most people who create something like to be credited for their work. Whether you make a video, song, photo, or blog post, it feels ‘right’ to receive recognition.
The right to be credited is part of the so-called “moral rights,” which are baked into many copyright laws around the world, adopted at the international level through the Berne Convention.
However, in the United States, this is not the case. The US didn’t sign the Berne Convention right away and opted out from the “moral rights” provision when it eventually joined.
Now that the U.S. Copyright Office is looking into ways to improve current copyright law, the issue has been brought to the forefront again. The Government recently completed a consultation to hear the thoughts of various stakeholders, which resulted in several noteworthy contributions.
As it turns out, the RIAA doesn’t want artists, such as songwriters, to have moral rights. Crediting everyone who’s involved in making a song can be confusing and complicated the group notes, arguing against the addition of a new statutory attribution right.
The RIAA highlights that it would be costly for streaming services to credit everyone involved in the creative process. In addition, they stress that the likes of Spotify might not have the screen real estate to attribute all creators, without ruining the user experience with long lists of names.
“If a statutory attribution right suddenly required these services to provide attribution to others involved in the creative process, that would presumably require costly changes to their user interfaces and push them up against the size limitations of their display screens,” the RIAA writes.
These comments don’t sit well with songwriters and other creators around the world, who feel that the RIAA is putting trivial metadata issues above their rights. In a protest against the RIAA’s stance, several songwriter groups around the world are now joining hands to show their discontent.
The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC), Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), Music Creators North America (MCNA), Council of Music Creators (CMC), and several others, have sent a strongly worded open letter to the RIAA accusing the record label group of betrayal.
“The RIAA’s argument prioritizes the inconvenience of dealing with accurate metadata over the principle of the protection of the rights of the people upon whose work the music business is built,” the letter reads.
“More fundamentally, RIAA’s comments are taken by many in the music creator community as a betrayal of our joint commitment to expand opportunities for creators. Unfortunately, this divergence of views gives our common adversaries an opportunity to divide our community.”
The groups warn that without proper attribution, songwriters and other contributors risk not receiving any compensation for the work they do. This puts the RIAA in the same camp as those who want to weaken copyright in general, the letter notes.
“Without accurate metadata, contributors to a work risk not getting paid. That’s a moral dilemma intrinsically linked to the issue of moral rights — and on this issue the RIAA has now aligned itself with those who seek to enfeeble IP rights.”
The RIAA’s stance goes even further than that of Creative Commons and the “copyleft,” according to the groups.
“Even anti-copyright groups like Creative Commons understand the importance of attribution. If the RIAA is seen as less artist-friendly than Creative Commons, the copyleft and all who seek to undervalue our work will benefit.”
While Creative Commons has more flexible views on copyright than the average entertainment industry company, describing it as “anti-copyright” goes a bit far. Still, the groups send a strong message to the RIAA, that the organization’s stance on moral rights is abhorrent.
The songwriter and artist groups stress that the RIAA might shoot itself in the foot, as it’s distancing the people it needs to further its interests around the globe. As for the metadata problems, they believe that the streaming platforms and other services will come up with a proper solution eventually.
“We believe there’s no doubt music platforms will come up with innovative and effective ways to give credit. Certainly there’s no need to set expectations at rock bottom as the RIAA did in their comments,” the groups write in their letter.
The groups urge the RIAA to revise its views and start collaborating with creators to address specific implementation problems. The record labels and creators should stand together as one, instead of going against each other.
It will be interesting to see if and how the RIAA responds to the critique.
While the US Government has yet to decide on the moral rights issue, in other countries the attribution right is taken very seriously. Just recently, a District Court in Isreal awarded a local music composer $223,000 in statutory damages because his name was removed from the credits of an online kids animation series.
Flava Works is an Illinois-based company specializing in adult material featuring black and Latino men. It operates an aggressive anti-piracy strategy which has resulted in some large damages claims in the past.
Now, however, the company has found itself targeted by a lawsuit filed by one of its alleged victims. Filed in a California district court by an unnamed individual, it accuses Flava Works of shocking behavior relating to a claim of alleged piracy.
According to the lawsuit, ‘John Doe’ received a letter in early June from Flava Works CEO Phillip Bleicher, accusing him of Internet piracy. Titled “Settlement Demand and Cease and Desist”, the letter got straight to the point.
“Flava Works is aware that you have been ‘pirating’ the content from its website(s) for your own personal financial benefit,” the letter read.
[Update: ‘John Doe’ has now been identified as Marc Juris, President & General Manager of AMC-owned WE tv. All references to John Doe below refer to Juris. See note at footer]
As is often the case with such claims, Flava Works offered to settle with John Doe for a cash fee. However, instead of the few hundred or thousand dollars usually seen in such cases, the initial settlement amount was an astronomical $97,000. But that wasn’t all.
According to John Doe, Bleicher warned that unless the money was paid in ten days, Flava Works “would initiate litigation against [John Doe], publically accusing him of being a consumer and pirate of copyrighted gay adult entertainment.”
Amping up the pressure, Bleicher then warned that after the ten-day deadline had passed, the settlement amount of $97,000 would be withdrawn and replaced with a new amount – $525,000.
The lawsuit alleges that Bleicher followed up with more emails in which he indicated that there was still time to settle the matter “one on one” since the case hadn’t been assigned to an attorney. However, he warned John Doe that time was running out and that public exposure via a lawsuit would be the next step.
While these kinds of tactics are nothing new in copyright infringement cases, the amounts of money involved are huge, indicating something special at play. Indeed, it transpires that John Doe is a public figure in the entertainment industry and the suggestion is that Flava Works’ assessment of his “wealth and profile” means he can pay these large sums.
According to the suit, on July 6, 2017, Bleicher sent another email to John Doe which “alluded to [his] high-profile status and to the potential publicity that a lawsuit would bring.” The email went as far as threatening an imminent Flava Works press release, announcing that a public figure, who would be named, was being sued for pirating gay adult content.
Flava Works alleges that John Doe uploaded its videos to various BitTorrent sites and forums, but John Doe vigorously denies the accusations, noting that the ‘evidence’ presented by Flava Works fails to back up its claims.
“The materials do not reveal or expose infringement of any sort. [Flava Works’] real purpose in sending this ‘proof’ was to demonstrate just how humiliating it would be to defend against Flava Works’ scurrilous charges,” John Doe’s lawsuit notes.
“[Flava Works’] materials consist largely of screen shots of extremely graphic images of pornography, which [Flava Works] implies that [John Doe] has viewed — but which are completely irrelevant given that they are not Flava Works content. Nevertheless, Bleicher assured [John Doe] that these materials would all be included in a publicly filed lawsuit if he refused to accede to [Flava Works’] payment demands.”
From his lawsuit (pdf) it’s clear that John Doe is in no mood to pay Flava Works large sums of cash and he’s aggressively on the attack, describing the company’s demands as “criminal extortion.”
He concludes with a request for a declaration that he has not infringed Flava Works’ copyrights, while demanding attorneys’ fees and further relief to be determined by the court.
The big question now is whether Flava Works will follow through with its threats to exposure the entertainer, or whether it will drift back into the shadows to fight another day. Definitely one to watch.
Update: Flava Works has now followed through on its threat to sue Juris. A complaint filed iat an Illinois court accuses the TV executive of uploading Flava Works titles to several gay-focused torrent sites in breach of copyright. It demands $1.2m in damages.
It’s the fight that few believed would become reality but on August 26, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will duke it out with UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
Despite being labeled a freak show by boxing purists, it is set to become the biggest combat sports event of all time. Mayweather, undefeated in his professional career, will face brash Irishman McGregor, who has gained a reputation for accepting fights with anyone – as long as there’s a lot of money involved. Big money is definitely the theme of the Mayweather bout.
Dubbed “The Money Fight”, some predict it could pull in a billion dollars, with McGregor pocketing $100m and Mayweather almost certainly more. Many of those lucky enough to gain entrance on the night will have spent thousands on their tickets but for the millions watching around the world….iiiiiiiit’s Showtimmme….with hefty PPV prices attached.
Of course, not everyone will be handing over $89.95 to $99.99 to watch the event officially on Showtime. Large numbers will turn to the many hundreds of websites set to stream the fight for free online, which has the potential to reduce revenues for all involved. With that in mind, Showtime Networks has filed a lawsuit in California which attempts to preemptively tackle this piracy threat.
The suit targets a number of John Does said to be behind a network of dozens of sites planning to stream the fight online for free. Defendant 1, using the alias “Kopa Mayweather”, is allegedly the operator of LiveStreamHDQ, a site that Showtime has grappled with previously.
“Plaintiff has had extensive experience trying to prevent live streaming websites from engaging in the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of Plaintiff’s copyrighted works in the past,” the lawsuit reads.
“In addition to bringing litigation, this experience includes sending cease and desist demands to LiveStreamHDQ in response to its unauthorized live streaming of the record-breaking fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.”
Showtime says that LiveStreamHDQ is involved in the operations of at least 41 other sites that have been set up to specifically target people seeking to watch the fight without paying. Each site uses a .US ccTLD domain name.
Sample of the sites targeted by the lawsuit
Showtime informs the court that the registrant email and IP addresses of the domains overlap, which provides further proof that they’re all part of the same operation. The TV network also highlights various statements on the sites in question which demonstrate intent to show the fight without permission, including the highly dubious “Watch From Here Mayweather vs Mcgregor Live with 4k Display.”
In addition, the lawsuit is highly critical of efforts by the sites’ operator(s) to stuff the pages with fight-related keywords in order to draw in as much search engine traffic as they can.
“Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have engaged in such keyword stuffing as a form of search engine optimization in an effort to attract as much web traffic as possible in the form of Internet users searching for a way to access a live stream of the Fight,” it reads.
While site operators are expected to engage in such behavior, Showtime says that these SEO efforts have been particularly successful, obtaining high-ranking positions in major search engines for the would-be pirate sites.
For instance, Showtime says that a Google search for “Mayweather McGregor Live” results in four of the target websites appearing in the first 100 results, i.e the first 10 pages. Interestingly, however, to get that result searchers would need to put the search in quotes as shown above, since a plain search fails to turn anything up in hundreds of results.
At this stage, the important thing to note is that none of the sites are currently carrying links to the fight, because the fight is yet to happen. Nevertheless, Showtime is convinced that come fight night, all of the target websites will be populated with pirate links, accessible for free or after paying a fee. This needs to be stopped, it argues.
“Defendants’ anticipated unlawful distribution will impair the marketability and profitability of the Coverage, and interfere with Plaintiff’s own authorized distribution of the Coverage, because Defendants will provide consumers with an opportunity to view the Coverage in its entirety for free, rather than paying for the Coverage provided through Plaintiff’s authorized channels.
“This is especially true where, as here, the work at issue is live coverage of a one-time live sporting event whose outcome is unknown,” the network writes.
Showtime informs the court that it made efforts to contact the sites in question but had just a single response from an individual who claimed to be sports blogger who doesn’t offer streaming services. The undertone is one of disbelief.
In closing, Showtime demands a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction, prohibiting the defendants from making the fight available in any way, and/or “forming new entities” in order to circumvent any subsequent court order. Compensation for suspected damages is also requested.
Showtime previously applied for and obtained a similar injunction to cover the (hugely disappointing) Mayweather v Pacquiao fight in 2015. In that case, websites were ordered to be taken down on the day before the fight.
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