Scary UFC Copyright Propaganda Matters to Everyone

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You're probably thinking, I don't watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship, why should I care about what they have to say? Well, when a world leader in PPV can obtain a website's member list and set about threatening to sue each and every one of them for simply viewing an unauthorized stream, the gravity of the situation should start to sink in.

ufcTo some it’s just a couple of half-naked men or nowadays women (NSFW) wriggling round in a sweat and blood filled cage in a pointless display of mindless violence. To others it’s the pinnacle of unarmed combat, the planet’s most elite warriors pushing their bodies and minds to the limit while showcasing the very best of martial arts.

Whatever your stance, the UFC and its aggressive approach to copyright enforcement matters to you, because where they tread today, others may tread tomorrow. And it’s a scary path indeed, one that would tick all the boxes of “overly-paranoid file-sharer”, if such a meme existed.

The file-sharing site honeytrap is a much-feared beast, set up to ensnare unsuspecting users in order to subject them to an awful but largely undocumented fate. But while in 2005 the MPAA were believed to have obtained the database of then-famous torrent site LokiTorrent, nothing has been publicly done with that data. Almost certainly, no one has been sued.

Since then dozens of sites have come and gone, many along with whispers that some evil entity or other has secured access to thousands of user’s details. No proof has ever surfaced to show a grain of truth in that notion, but now – not for the first but for the second time – the UFC is claiming to have done just that.

In 2012, the UFC announced that it had obtained the user database of a site called Greenfeedz, along with a promise it would chase down its members for watching unauthorized UFC streams.

While the announcement caused concern at the time, little was known about the outcome. However this week the UFC were back again, categorically stating they were going to sue people who watched unauthorized streams on another site. But how were those people identified? By the UFC obtaining the site’s database, that’s how.

“As part of the on-going initiative against online piracy, Zuffa, LLC, owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC®) organization, successfully took down and seized the records of www.cagewatcher.eu, a website that illegally streamed two UFC pay-per-view events,” the UFC announced.

“UFC has obtained details of the streaming site’s userbase, including email addresses, IP addresses, user names and information pertaining to individuals who watched pirated UFC events including UFC 169. Also recovered were chat transcripts from the website. Using this data, UFC will work with Lonstein Law Office to prosecute identified infringers.”

If the UFC is to be taken on face value, anyone watching an unauthorized video on YouTube or Vimeo for example, can be subjected to legal action by the UFC. However, rather than go through the messy process of subpoenas and the like, the UFC can turn up at any unauthorized site, threaten the owner, and walk away with the site’s entire database and use it for legal action.

The UFC says it’s carried through with its threats too, stating that Lonstein Law Office has “successfully prosecuted hundreds of claims for the UFC organization for sites illegally streaming content and individual users since 2007.”

In order to find out more, MMA site Bloody Elbow did some digging and found a case dating to just after the UFC made its Greenfeedz announcement. It turns out the UFC did indeed have some success against one individual. However, the case navigated an extremely unusual track.

Probably understanding they were on delicate ground in respect of a regular copyright infringement prosecution, the UFC took action under Title 47 of the United States Code, Section 553, which prohibits people from intercepting or receiving “any communications service offered over a cable system, unless specifically authorized to do so.” Basically the UFC claimed that the individual had received a PPV signal without paying for it.

Since the defendant didn’t show, the court noted this was an admission of guilt, even though it was established that “there is no evidence that defendant obtained any financial gain from his illegal receipt of the copyrighted broadcasts since he viewed them on his home computer.”

Case won by the UFC via default judgment, with the target landed with a bill for $11,948.70.

How the UFC is intimidating others into settling isn’t clear, but it seems very likely that this judgment will be waved in front of users from sites where the databases have been obtained, with the threat that they will suffer the same fate unless they pay a few thousand dollars.

And this is why the UFC’s actions are important to everyone.

If big companies like Zuffa can intimidate site owners into ratting out their users, those users can be bullied into paying settlements. Remember, there is no official discovery process here, no friendly ISP to contest the handing over of their subscribers’ details. Just an aggressive copyright holder bullying victims over the simple viewing – not distribution – of a video stream.

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