While the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment has built a reputation for shutting down pirate IPTV services by various means, US broadcaster DISH is more prolific when it comes to actual lawsuits.
Over the years DISH has filed large numbers of civil lawsuits, some based on copyright law and others the Federal Communications Act. Some of these complaints are met by defendants who wish to engage in court but there are others that are completely one-sided affairs, with DISH doing all the legal legwork and getting very little in response.
The case in question is an excellent example of the latter.
DISH Files Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against IPTV Provider
Initially filed in August 2020, the complaint targeted five ‘doe’ defendants, together doing business as Universe IPTV and Universe TV. The complaint alleged that the service’s business was carried out via several domains, including but not limited to World-Universeiptv.com and Uni-Update.com.
According to DISH, the pirate provider had not obtained a license to transmit any of DISH’s 400 channels in the United States, neither did it have permission to distribute copyrighted works for shows for which the company owns the copyrights. The Universe service transmitted and distributed DISH content regardless, utilizing a network of resellers to sell illicit subscriptions via Instagram and Facebook, in breach of DISH’s rights.
DISH went to some lengths to try and close Universe down including sending cease-and-desist letters directly to the platform and more than a dozen to CDN networks associated with the service. This proved fruitless, however, since Universe simply shifted to new locations and different providers.
DISH Identifies Universe IPTV Operators
In December 2020, DISH’s first amended complaint named three people as the alleged operators of Universe IPTV – Mohamed Omar, Hossam Abd Elghany, and Moustafa Maatouk. Together they were accused of direct and contributory copyright infringement. DISH also claimed to have identified their locations – United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Germany respectively.
The big question was whether DISH would be able to do anything to make the men participate in the lawsuit. The answer to that question was ultimately negative. Despite using established legal processes in all three countries, by April 2021 DISH was unable to confirm to the court that the defendants had been directly served.
So, in August 2021, DISH filed motions for default judgment against all three after serving the defendants via third parties including VeriSign, Donuts, and other service providers previously utilized by the platform. The court considered this to be acceptable to advance DISH’s claim for a default judgment.
Court Orders Universe IPTV Operators to Pay DISH $7m+
In a judgment handed down late last week, United States District Judge Sim Lake found that Universe IPTV had transmitted DISH’s protected channels (and the copyrighted works that aired on those channels) to users of the Universe service in the United States. By doing so, the defendants directly infringed DISH’s exclusive rights to distribute and publicly perform those works and, as a result, they are liable for direct copyright infringement.
In addition, the defendants also induced and materially contributed to the infringement of DISH’s rights by providing Universe IPTV’s users with access to DISH content, despite having the ability to prevent such access.
“Defendants are contributorily liable for copyright infringement because they served as the intermediary between third parties who directly infringe DISH’s exclusive distribution and public performance rights and users of the Universe Service, who became a necessary component of the infringement – the audience,” the judgment reads.
As a result, the Judge found the Universe defendants liable for inducing and materially contributing to copyright infringement, noting that the breaches were both malicious and willful.
Taking the 47 copyrighted works mentioned in the complaint, the Judge awarded DISH $150,000 in damages for each of them, to a total of $7,050,000, with the defendants held jointly and severally liable. Whether DISH will ever see a penny of this amount is in question but the Judge also handed down a broad injunction in an effort to hinder the defendants’ business moving forward.
Broad Injunction Against Universe IPTV
In addition to some broad measures designed to prevent Universe from doing business as before, including transmitting the DISH channels in the United States and/or marketing/selling subscriptions there, the injunction prevents non-party service providers from engaging in infringing activities with the Universe defendants in the future.
Website and domain hosting companies, proxy services, CDN providers, advertisers, social media services and email providers cannot provide services to support any infringing service offered by the defendants. In addition, Belize-based ISP Squitter Networks must disable a range of IP addresses used by Universe and any future ISPs served with the order must do the same, if their network is being used by Universe to breach DISH’s rights.
Finally, domain companies including VeriSign and Donuts are required to disable a large number of domains related to the Universe service and transfer them to DISH so that the broadcaster can fully control and use them.
The $7m default judgment can be found here (pdf)