Last year, a group of movie companies filed a lawsuit against the operators of various websites that promoted and distributed so-called pirate apps.
These apps, including ‘Showbox’ and ‘Popcorn Time,’ enable users to stream pirated movies via torrents and direct sources.
Movie Companies Sue Pirate App Distributers
The movie companies, including those behind “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” “London Has Fallen,” and “Hunter Killer” filed a complaint at a U.S. District Court in Hawaii accusing these sites of facilitating massive piracy.
“The Defendants misleadingly promote the Show Box app as a legitimate means for viewing content to the public, who eagerly install the Show Box app to watch copyright protected content, thereby leading to profit for the Defendants,” the 58-page complaint read.
In the months that followed the movie companies signed several consent judgments with the defendants. While none of these were the original app developers, they indeed distributed the software and took the blame for their actions.
Not all defendants replied, however. Vietnamese man Nghi Phan Nhat, who allegedly operated the APK download portal ‘apkmirrordownload.com,’ was served but never responded in court. The pirate apps had disappeared from the site but the movie companies wanted more.
Last September, they requested $150,000 in statutory damages. In addition, they asked for an injunction ordering third-party services such as hosting companies and domain registrars to stop doing business with the site.
Magistrate Judge Argues That Court Doesn’t Have Jurisdiction
Initially, this request wasn’t well received. Hawaii’s Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield advised the court to deny it. There wasn’t sufficient evidence that the defendant purposefully directed activities at the US, he argued, which is a requirement for the court to have jurisdiction.
The movie companies’ attorney, Kerry Culpepper, opposed this recommendation, with success. The district court rejected the findings and recommendations, concluding that the court has personal jurisdiction over the Vietnamese man.
The operator used the services of US companies such as Namesilo and CloudFlare, for example, and also had a DMCA policy page, which specifically refers to US law.
“The display of this policy on the APK Site shows that Nhat was aware of, and attempted to invoke the protections of, potentially applicable United States law,” the Hawaii District Court wrote (pdf).
$150,000 Piracy Damages is Appropriate After All
Earlier this month the Court ruled that a default judgment is appropriate (pdf), awarding the requested $150,000 in statutory damages. That represents $30,000 per movie title. In addition, it granted over $10,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
The movie companies didn’t get everything they asked for, however. The district court denied an injunction that would prevent Cloudflare and Namesilo from offering services to the site.
“The Court finds that the request for Namesilo and CloudFlare to stop ‘facilitating access’ to Defendant Nhat’s domain and websites that ‘engaged in the distribution and promotion of the Show Box app’ is overly broad,” the court wrote in its earlier order.
The last request would have been futile anyway as apkmirrordownload.com is no longer online. Whether the movie companies will indeed get their damages from the operator is also uncertain.
This case is important in respect of future cases against foreign site operators. As the lawsuit against the YouTube rippers Flvto.biz and 2conv.com has also shown, courts have been divided over when and under what circumstances foreign sites can be held liable in the US.