Pirate Site Operator Slapped With $10 Million in Damages

A U.S. federal court in Oregon has signed a judgment ordering the operator of several tiny streaming sites to pay $10 million in damages to ABS-CBN. The entertainment and media conglomerate is touting the outcome as a landmark victory, but is that really the case?

piracy-crimeIn August we reported how ABS-CBN was going after several website owners who link to pirated streams of its programming.

The Philippines-based company filed a lawsuit at a federal court in Oregon looking for millions of dollars in damages from two local residents, husband and wife.

The five sites they operated, including Pinoymoviefan.com and Watchfilipinotv.com, barely had any visitors. According to the main suspect, Jeff Ashby, he created them for his wife so she could enjoy entertainment from her home country.

‘I created these websites for my wife who is from the Philippines, so she and others who are far from the Philippines could enjoy materials from their culture that are otherwise unavailable to them, Jeff Ashby wrote to the court.

The sites in question didn’t store copies of the infringing media but merely provided links to other websites, and Ashby shut them down voluntarily as soon as he heard about the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, ABS-CBN branded Ashby a hardcore criminal. In one of their own news report they managed to get the L.A. police to agree with them.

“[Piracy is] supporting their ability to buy drugs and guns and engage in violence. And then, the support of global terrorism, which is a threat to everybody,” LA County Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told an ABS-CBN news outlet.

Now, just a few weeks later the case is over. The Oregon District Court ‘ruled’ in favor of ABS-CBN and ordered Jeff Ashby to pay a mind-blowing $10 million in damages.

The company nevertheless praises the ‘unprecedented’ victory in its own news coverage and warns that they will continue to pursue action against pirate sites.

“Jeff Ashby is the first of many pirates that we are pursuing,” says Elisha Lawrence, ABS-CBN’s Associate Vice President of Global Anti-Piracy.

“We have begun a relentless campaign to enforce against all pirate websites due to the numerous reports that these sites contain dangerous malware which cause substantial harm including identify theft of financial information and phishing attacks.”

While the $10 million may do well for PR purposes, the media conglomerate fails to mention that this isn’t a regular verdict. Instead, it’s a consent judgment (pdf) between ABS-CBN and Ashby which the court signed off on.

In other words, the $10 million in damages reported in public is a figure both parties agreed on, without putting up a fight. Needless to say, it’s likely that a separate deal was made behind the scenes.

In fact, a month before the consent judgment the court had already been informed that both parties had settled the case.

Most telling, perhaps, is the response of Jeff Ashby after he was ‘hit’ by the $10 million judgment. Instead of characterizing the damages as unfair and overblown, he now warns others not to mess with ABS-CBN.

“I wish to warn anyone who may be copying and/or publishing content owned by ABS-CBN without their permission, to stop immediately. Continuing without authorization can and will lead to very serious consequences,” Ashby comments.

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