ABS-CBN is the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines but is regularly active in US courts as it attempts to disrupt online piracy.
In April 2019, for example, a district court in Florida ordered the operators of 27 pirate sites to each pay $1 million in damages.
Then, last December, ABS-CBN sued a Texas man for millions of dollars after he allegedly sold pirate streaming devices via Facebook. It now appears that the media giant is set to expand the campaign against those involved in the supply of pirate IPTV devices.
According to ABS-CBN, on February 7, 2020, Los Angeles Police Department carried out a sting operation during which undercover officers purchased five ‘pirate’ set-top boxes from Romula Araneta Castillo, also known as Jon Castillo. The media company reports that the suspect was arrested for alleged violations of California Penal Code 593(d), which relates to “intercepting, receiving, or using any program or other service carried by a multichannel video.”
Just days later, ABS-CBN filed two lawsuits in US district courts, one against Castillo in California and another against his alleged cousin, Alberto Ace Mayol, in Texas. Both lawsuits allege violations of 47 U.S. Code § 605 (unauthorized publication or use of communications) and other offenses under state law.
“Upon information and belief, Defendant has been engaged in a scheme to, without authorization, sell Pirate Equipment that retransmits ABS-CBN’s programming to his customers as Pirate Services,” both of the complaints read.
“[I]n order to gain access to ABS-CBN’s protected communications and copyrighted content, Defendant’s Pirate Equipment is designed to illegally access ABS-CBN’s live communications. This system allows for the circumvention of ABS-CBN’s encryption technology and the reception, disclosure, and publication of ABS-CBN’s protected communications and copyrighted content.”
Together, the lawsuits against both men are worth millions of dollars in damages, should the full amounts be awarded. ABS-CBN appears to have made covert purchases itself and has published photographic evidence on its site.
“This arrest and accompanying civil lawsuits mark the first actions this year by ABS-CBN in a coming wave against the nationwide epidemic of IPTV box sellers,” the company said, commenting on the lawsuits.
“ABS-CBN conducted a months-long investigation into the scheme perpetrated by Castillo and his cousin, Alfaro, including undercover purchases from the targets. The lawsuits allege that Castillo and Alfaro engaged in this multi-state scheme to sell these pirated set top boxes to the unsuspecting public.”
ABS-CBN Global Anti-Piracy Head Elisha Lawrence thanked US police for their assistance.
“We are thankful for the cooperation of the LA Police Dept. in investigating and arresting Castillo, a kingpin in this pirate box scheme. Defrauding the public by selling these fake boxes is a scam operation and preying on innocent people. We are very happy to have the cooperation of the police to enforce against these pirates,” Lawrence said.
The civil lawsuits filed by ABS-CBN can be found here and here (pdf)