Controversial Roku ‘Piracy’ Ban Stays in Place in Mexico

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Last year the Superior Court of Justice of the City of Mexico responded to a copyright complaint filed by a TV company by banning all imports and sales of Roku devices. After a temporary suspension of the decision, the ban soon returned and the company and various sales outlets have been fighting ever since. New rulings mean that the controversial restrictions will continue, at least for now.

‘Set-top’ devices such as Amazon’s Fire TV have sold in their millions in recent years as the stream-to-your-living room craze continues.

Many commercial devices are intended to receive official programming in a legal manner but most can be reprogrammed to do illegal things.

Of course, this behavior has nothing to do with the manufacturers of such devices but a case launched in Mexico last year really took things to the next level.

Following a complaint filed by cable TV provider Cablevision, the Superior Court of Justice of the City of Mexico handed down an order in June preventing the importation of Roku devices and prohibiting stores such as Amazon, Liverpool, El Palacio de Hierro, and Sears from putting them on sale.

The ban was handed down in an effort to tackle the amount of pirated content being viewed through the devices. News circulating at the time suggested that sellers on social media were providing more than 300 channels of unauthorized content for around US$8 per month.

Of course, the same illegal content consumption also takes place via regular PCs, tablet computers, and even mobile phones. No one would consider banning them but the court in Mexico clearly didn’t see the parallels when it dropped the hammer on Roku.

Later that month, however, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. A federal judge decided to temporarily suspend the import and sales ban, which also instructed banks to stop processing payments from accounts linked to third-party pirate services.

“Roku is pleased with today’s court decision, which paves the way for sales of Roku devices to resume in Mexico,” Roku’s General Counsel Steve Kay informed TorrentFreak at the time.

“Piracy is a problem the industry at large is facing. We prohibit copyright infringement of any kind on the Roku platform. We actively work to prevent third-parties from using our platform to distribute copyright infringing content. Moreover, we have been actively working with other industry stakeholders on a wide range of anti-piracy initiatives.”

But just as the sales began to flow once more, the celebrations were almost immediately cut short.

On June 28, 2017, a Mexico City tribunal upheld the previous decision which banned importation and distribution of Roku devices, much to the disappointment of Roku’s General Counsel.

“Today’s decision is not the final word in this complex legal matter,” Steve Kay said.

Indeed, since that date, Roku and retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Office Depot, Radio Shack and Sears have been fighting to have Roku devices put back on sale again, with several courts ruling against the appeals. Then last week there was another blow when federal judges in Mexico City and Torreón decided to keep the original suspension in place.

Forbidding the “importation, commercialization and distribution” of Roku devices, the judges maintained that Roku devices could be used as an instrument for “dishonest commerce” in violation of Mexico’s copyright law.

The main argument in support of the ban is that Roku devices can still be used by people to gain access to infringing content. As a result, Cablevision believes that Roku should modify its devices to ensure that piracy isn’t possible in the future.

“It is necessary for Roku to make adjustments to its software, as other online content distribution platforms do, so that violations of copyrighted content do not take place,” a Cablevision spokesperson said.

The decision to ban Roku devices can still be appealed. The company informs TorrentFreak that further legal action is on the cards.

“There have been several recent court rulings related to the ban on the sale of Roku devices in Mexico. In fact, a Federal court in Mexico City has already determined that the ban was improper; however, the ban remains in place,” says Roku spokesperson Tricia Misfud.

“While Roku’s devices have always been and remain legal to use in Mexico, the current ban harms consumers, the retail sector and the industry. We will vigorously pursue further legal actions with the aim of restoring sales of Roku devices in Mexico.”

Despite a nationwide sales ban, people who already have a Roku in their possession remain unaffected by recent developments. Since the use of Roku devices in Mexico and elsewhere is completely legal, current users will still receive regular software updates.

In associated news, Mexico’s Telecommunications Law Institute (IDET) reports that the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) has been blocking URLs used to distribute unauthorized content and apps.

While that will undoubtedly prove unpopular with pirates, one hopes that its execution is somewhat more precise than the wholesale banning of the entire Roku platform.

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