Operators of pirate IPTV services in the United States risk prison sentences and civil copyright infringement lawsuits when things don’t go to plan.
The recent 66-month sentence handed to YouTuber ‘Omi in a Hellcat’ is one example with a particularly hefty price tag – $30+ million in restitution.
IPTV services operated by Texas resident Dwayne Johnson weren’t as big or as profitable, but certainly important enough for Hollywood to step in with overwhelming resources.
Powerful Coalition Sues Johnson
In December 2021, movie and TV giants Universal, Disney, Paramount, Warner, and Columbia teamed up with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and several other studios, in a lawsuit targeting AllAccessTV (AATV) and Quality Restreams.
The complaint alleged that AATV supplied infringing movies and TV shows via its IPTV and VOD services. Titles including The Godfather, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and The Office were distributed to subscribers via their smart TVs, computers, set-top boxes, plus mobile and tablet devices.
The studios said that most subscribers paid between $10 to $45 per month to access around 2,500 channels.
Connected service Quality Restreams allegedly provided infringing movies and TV shows to other pirate IPTV providers, including AATV.
In addition to live IPTV channels, its VOD service supplied 600 movies and 600 TV series, organized into named categories, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Disney+.
Disguised as a VPN Provider
While most IPTV providers make at least some effort to hide their nature, the lawsuit alleged that AATV went a little further by presenting itself as a VPN provider.
The lawsuit revealed that along with many other pieces of ‘cross contamination’ evidence, the studios had already identified Johnson as a manager of VPN Safe Vault LLC, the entity believed to be behind the ‘VPN’ site.
Alleging direct copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, and inducement of copyright infringement, the plaintiffs demanded $150,000 in statutory damages for each willfully infringed work, plus a broad injunction.
Johnson Fights Back
At least initially, Johnson’s legal team put up a spirited defense. Describing aspects of the plaintiffs’ evidence as “biased” and details of the proposed injunction as “unsupported” and “absurd,” the defense said targeting a VPN platform would amount to “an unlawful restraint on trade.”
Within days, however, the parties informed a California district court that they had agreed to the terms of a preliminary injunction. The court handed down the injunction in February 2022.
In May 2022, the parties informed the court that while there was no aversion to reaching a settlement, they would press ahead with discovery nonetheless.
Numerous entries preceded a filing dated November 8, 2022, which was followed by more than four months of complete silence.
Parties Shake Hands on $30m Damages Award
With a trial scheduled for July this year, on March 16 the studios and Johnson reached an agreement to bring hostilities to an end. The settlement includes a permanent injunction restraining any and all unauthorized copying, storing and dissemination of copyrighted content to internet users, whether directly or indirectly through third parties.
Johnson also agreed not to “distribute, transfer, or give any source code, object code, or other technology,” including domain names, trademarks, brands, assets or goodwill, that are in any way related to the AATV and Quality Restreams services.
By having the court sign off on the agreement, Johnson could be held in contempt for breaching its terms. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr signed off on the permanent injunction on Monday, along with a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs for copyright infringement and an award for damages.
“Damages are awarded in favor of Plaintiffs and against Defendant, in the total amount of thirty million dollars ($30 million),” the judgment reads.
The $30m judgment and associated filings are available here (1,2,3,4, pdf)
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