After a long-running dispute with Twentieth Century Fox and the MPAA, the alleged former operator of a site dedicated to linking to episodes of The Simpsons now faces punishing legal action. Early October, lawyers from Fox turned up at the man’s home in Canada, taking away all of his electronic equipment and handing over documents detailing a $10.5 million lawsuit.
While anti-piracy actions take place all around the world on a daily basis, it is relatively rare to hear of targeted lawsuits against individual sites. But as the MPAA case against isoHunt closes, another large one is developing in its wake.
The story centers around two recently closed sites. The first is Watch The Simpsons Online, a site that had been around since 2008. The second, Watch Family Guy Online, had been online since 2009.
As their names suggest, the sites gave Internet users the opportunity to watch Fox TV shows The Simpsons and Family Guy online. This was achieved via embedded web players utilizing external video sources.
The sites did fairly well, with the later achieving around seven million visitors and the former around 80 million during their lifetimes. Due to unwanted attention from Fox, both had to employ domain switches to stay online, something which no doubt affected their traffic.
The first sign that Fox were sizing up Watch The Simpsons Online (WTSO) came in 2008. Sources inform TorrentFreak that Fox were “shutting the site down almost weekly” by threatening its hosts.
The domain being used at the time – WatchTheSimpsonsOnline.com – was eventually seized by Fox after the company won an uncontested WIPO dispute. As can be seen in the image below, it is now listed as belonging to Fox’s IP department.
WTSO returned under a new domain but in 2010 the MPAA sent a cease and desist, including a complaint for WFGO (Watch Family Guy Online) for good measure. The site admin complied and later transferred the domain to a new owner, who some time later appears to have transferred it back.
Fox, however, had certainly not forgotten about the sites.
Records show that on October 2, 2013, Fox paid $50 to file a copyright infringement complaint at the Federal Court in Toronto, Canada. On the same day requests were filed to keep court documents “confidential” pending the issuing of a court order.
On October 8, a so-called “Anton Piller” order was granted by a judge in the Federal Court. This order grants entities the right to carry out searches and seize evidence without prior warning with the aim of preventing evidence destruction. They are often used in copyright and trademark disputes.
Order in hand, Fox wasted no time. On October 9, two lawyers from Fox, two court appointed lawyers, two IT professionals and a forensics specialist turned up at an address in Canada looking for the alleged admin of WTSO. After gaining access to the property with the full permission of the court, they seized all of the defendant’s electronic devices and other related items.
The punchline was the handing over of a $10.5 million lawsuit alongside orders not to meddle with the sites.
The seized devices were returned within 72 hours, presumably having been cloned, but it soon became clear the matter would press on.
The alleged admin of the site was given an opportunity to settle the case for a cool $1 million, an “impossible amount” according to our sources. Despite the lack of a formal agreement, both Watch The Simpsons Online and Watch Family Guy Online were taken down and now display links to Hulu and Fox.com.
Nevertheless, the legal proceedings continued. On October 16 a review took place in the Federal Court which established that the Anton Piller order had been properly granted and executed. A date of October 22 was set for a court appearance by the defendant, but the hearing took place with no defendant present after he failed to appear.
Sources close to the case inform TorrentFreak that the likely outcome will be a $10m+ default judgment in favor of Fox, to be boosted by more than $600,000 to cover legal costs. We shouldn’t have to wait long to discover the full details.