PrimeWire is a popular streaming portal that provides a database of links to pirated movies and TV shows hosted by third parties. It’s been around for at least eight years but in December 2021 it became clear that major movie and TV show companies had seen enough.
In a lawsuit filed by Paramount, Universal, Warner, Columbia, Disney and Netflix in the United States, the studios accused PrimeWire of massive copyright infringement by encouraging users of the site to upload links to pirated content.
They said that this not only infringes their distribution rights but amounts to unfair competition to the detriment of VOD services such as Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, and Peacock. Indeed, the studios claim that PrimeWire is effectively an attractive one-stop shop, one that provides all of their exclusive content under one roof.
Court Issues Preliminary Injunction
Early January 2022, after the studios had demanded millions in damages and a preliminary injunction, the court responded by granting the latter. The order enjoins and restrains the PrimeWire defendants and anyone acting in concert with them from carrying out a number of actions, including linking to, distributing, reproducing, copying, hosting, uploading, and displaying the plaintiffs’ copyrighted works.
The injunction also ordered PrimeWire to take no action that would transfer the domains primewire.li, primewire.ag and primewire.vc to any other registrant or registrar. Domain name registrars and registries API Gmbh, Gandi SAS, Namecheap, Inc., Nic AG, SWITCH, and Afilias, Inc., were ordered to freeze and disable the three PrimeWire domains.
Primewire.ag was subsequently disabled by Gandi, rendering it inaccessible. The others, however, remained functional, allowing PrimeWire to stay up, business as usual. In addition, a new site appeared – primewirestatus.org – which acts as a news portal to give up-to-date information on new PrimeWire domains, should the old ones shut down.
We were unable to definitively link this domain to PrimeWire. However, in a call to the court, the studios now state that the people behind PrimeWire are also the people behind PrimeWireStatus, although they currently appear unable to identify any of them by name.
Studios Demand Action After PrimeWire Defies Court
In a motion for partial default judgment and leave to serve discovery, the studios say that since the operators of PrimeWire have failed to answer its original complaint, the court is entitled to enter judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor. They say that the defendants were correctly served but are nevertheless “openly defying” the injunction and have “taken steps to evade its reach.”
Describing PrimeWire as “prolific copyright pirates”, the studios say that on the day the preliminary injunction was served, they discovered that the PrimeWire team had taken countermeaasures.
“The same day Plaintiffs served Defendants with the [preliminary injunction] order, Plaintiffs discovered Defendants switched to a domain name registrar that is known for tolerating piracy,” their motion reads.
“On or around January 10, Defendants transferred the primewire.li and primewire.vc domains to a new domain name registrar, Sarek Oy, which is known for providing domain name registrar services to websites that provide access to infringing content.”
Then on January 11, the PrimeWire team added a new banner to streaming site alerting users to the existence of primewirestatus.org, “so [they] will always know where to find PrimeWire.”
Domain Registries and Registrars
According to the studios, they served notice of the preliminary injunction on all of PrimeWire’s prior and current registrars and registries and requested that they should freeze and disable PrimeWire’s domains.
Registrar Gandi SAS complied with the requirements and disabled the primewire.ag domain but Sarek Oy, the registrar to which the other PrimeWire domains were transferred, is reportedly being less helpful and “has not responded to Plaintiffs’ original or second communications and request for compliance.”
As a result, PrimeWire is still accessible from its .li and .vc domains, leading to a conclusion from the plaintiffs that PrimeWire is determined to render the preliminary injunction ineffective. Seeking a permanent injunction with the ability to tackle any new URLs, the studios want to seize PrimeWire’s domains so that they can be used to deliver an anti-piracy message to PrimeWire’s users
The Question of Damages
While the studios’ original complaint demanded millions in statutory damages, they also want to find out how much money has been generated by PrimeWire from advertising. They say they need permission from the court to do so.
“Plaintiffs believe a large damages award here will be appropriate given the scale of Defendants’ infringement, but need discovery to gather more information regarding Defendants’ ill-gotten profits,” they write.
“While Defendants suggested in limited communications with Plaintiffs that they generate little revenue through the PrimeWire Websites, Plaintiffs are entitled to discover the true facts.”
That might be easier said than done. The studios say they will need to contact PrimeWire’s current and former advertising networks and sponsored link providers to gain that information but since some are abroad and are expected to be uncooperative, it may take as long as six months to obtain the information.
In summary, Paramount, Universal, Warner, Columbia, Disney and Netflix seek a partial default judgment against the 10 ‘Doe’ defendants doing business as PrimeWire plus a tough and flexible permanent injunction to take PrimeWire offline.