A court in Texas has handed down a significant judgment against the operator of several ‘pirate’ streaming sites that offered content in breach of copyright law. In addition to statutory damages amounting to $16.8m, a broad injunction orders domain seizures and prevents most Internet companies from doing business with the sites’ operator.
In November 2019, US broadcaster DISH Network filed a lawsuit in a Texas district court targeting the operators of 15 domains used to illegally stream DISH content to the public.
The domains – Freetvall.net, Freetvall.xyz, Freetvall.me, Freetvall.live, Livetvcafe.com, Livetvcafe.net, Livetvcafe.me, Time4tv.com, Time4tv.net, Time4tv.me, Cricket-tv.net, Crickettv.me, Tv4embed.com, and A1livetv.com – offered a wide range of embedded TV channels, not only from DISH but other broadcasters including Sky and ESPN.
DISH’s Exclusive License to Broadcast in the United States
In its complaint, DISH listed around two dozen channels offered by the network of sites. Through licensing agreements, DISH holds the exclusive rights to distribute and publicly perform the channels in the United States. The sites had no such permission.
As the lawsuit progressed, DISH concluded that all of the sites were operated by one person, who was subsequently named as Nauman Khalid.
DISH claimed that the defendant provided users in the United States with links to unauthorized streams of its protected channels by collecting them from other locations on the Internet and organizing them on his websites. The whole operation was monetized with advertising.
DISH Notified Defendant of Infringement Dozens of Times
During a period spanning several years, DISH notified Khalid “at least” 49 times that he was infringing the company’s rights by providing infringing links to a US audience. DISH backed up this effort by sending similar notifications to Internet services utilized by the sites but Khalid “intentionally interfered” with these by changing providers or using new links.
DISH alleged that Khalid “induced and materially contributed” to offenses carried out in breach of US copyright law. Khalid was served in Pakistan but chose not to participate in the legal action against him in the US. As a result, DISH sought to obtain a default judgment from the court.
Court’s Decision – Direct and Contributory Infringement
In a memorandum opinion and order signed last week, the court found that the works at issue in the suit were authored in countries outside the United States but because those countries are all signatories to the Berne Convention, all are protected under US copyright law. In any event, all works were registered with the US Copyright Office.
In respect of the allegations of direct infringement, the court found that when Khalid provided links that enabled the retransmission of DISH content, that infringed the company’s rights to publicly perform those works. The court further found that Khalid had knowledge of these infringements since he had received at least some of the takedown notices sent by DISH.
Moving to DISH’s allegations of contributory copyright infringement, the court found that by selecting infringing links to channels and by organizing and maintaining them, Khalid “created the audience” to complete the direct infringement carried out by the unlicensed provider of the channels. As such, the allegations of inducement and material contribution were found to valid.
Question of Damages
When claiming damages, DISH had the option to choose actual damages and profits or statutory damages – the company settle on the latter. That meant the broadcaster could obtain $30,000 per infringed work and up to $150,000 if the infringement was committed willfully.
DISH elected to pursue statutory damages for 112 works registered with the US Copyright Office, to the maximum of $150,000 per infringement. The company alleged that even after sending takedown notices, Khalid continued to provide access to the broadcaster’s channels.
In support of its claim for maximum statutory damages, DISH told the court that Khalid had been infringing its rights for between five and nine years, claiming that its channels were viewed over 5.5 million times. The court agreed that the websites had caused DISH to incur substantial losses, adding that the offending was considerable.
“Because of the sheer breadth and duration of the infringement, the failure of Khalid to participate in this proceeding, his willingness to defy almost 50 notices of infringement and to evade service providers’ attempts to halt the infringement, and the likelihood that he profited from the infringement and caused substantial losses of revenue to DISH, the court finds that an award of maximum statutory damages — $150,000 per registered work — is appropriate,” the decision reads.
“Therefore, the total amount of damages that Khalid must pay DISH for the infringement of the 112 registered works is $16,800,000.”
In addition to damages, DISH demanded a permanent injunction and the court was happy to comply. First turning to Khalid and anyone acting in concert with him, the court issued an injunction enjoining all parties from transmitting, streaming, distributing, linking, hosting, promoting or advertising any of DISH’s protected channels in the United States.
Moving to non-parties, such as those providing any kind of technical service enabling the defendant to infringe, the court permanently enjoined all entities providing servers, hosting (including data centers), domain hosting/registration/proxy services, CDNs, advertising and social media, from doing business with Khalid that involves breaching DISH’s rights.
Specifically, the court ordered VeriSign and any other registry or registrar of the listed domains to transfer them to DISH within 48 hours so that the broadcaster may “fully control and use” them. Additionally, registries and registrars were ordered to restrict any future domain names used by Khalid to provide access to DISH works by disabling them within 48 hours of receiving a complaint from DISH.
“Such domain names shall remain disabled so that the websites and content located at the domain names are inaccessible to the public until further order of this Court, or until DISH provides written notice to the registry or registrar that the domain names shall be reenabled,” the order concludes.