ABS-CBN is the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines, but it’s very active in US courts as well.
In recent years the company has singled out dozens of streaming sites and services that offer access to ‘Pinoy’ content without permission, demanding substantial damages.
The defendants are often ‘John Doe’ site operators. However, last year ABS-CBN identified a very specific target; a Texas man named Anthony Brown. According to a complaint filed at a US federal court, Brown sold pirate streaming through Facebook.
Some pirate box sellers take extreme measures to conceal their identities. In this case, however, the defendant was easily identified through an undercover operation led by investigator Kevin Reyes.
Reyes, who works for the Philippine media company, tracked down a Facebook profile promoting pirate streaming boxes that appeared to give unauthorized access to ABS-CBN content. To see if this was indeed the case, he contacted the seller and placed an order.
Instead of going through an official storefront, Reyes placed his order via Facebook Messenger where the defendant allegedly shared his real name.
“Reyes began communicating that day with ‘Ann Ong’ on Facebook Messenger to purchase a Pirate Box. ‘Ann Ong’ – who, as discussed below, later identified himself to be [Defendant] ‘Anthony Brown’ – said that a Pirate Box was available for $150 with free shipping, and that it could be shipped to Reyes in Los Angeles, California.”
The name was not the only detail that came out. Brown, chatting as “Ann Ong,” also shared the name and address of his company, which matched the information tied to his PayPal address.
Investigator is Offered a Cut
The defendant further mentioned that he works with a distributor from Kuwait and programs the boxes so they can be used to pirate content. And as a kicker, the undercover investigator was offered a piece of the action if he was interested in referring new clients.
“‘Ann Ong’ stated ‘I hope you can also refer more when you have the box and then I give you a cut in the market in California’,” ABS-CBN writes.
After ABS-CBN filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas last December not much happened. Brown was served in January but never responded to the allegations in court. As a result, the media company now requests a default judgment.
ABS-CBN Requests Default Judgment
In a motion submitted this week, the defendant admitted running a widespread illegal operation. Several Facebook profiles were used to sell pirate boxes and the company used a dedicated website as well.
The media company accused the Texas man of “illegally promoting and selling ‘Smart’ TV boxes that have been designed or modified to circumvent ABS-CBN’s encryption technology” which allows customers to “unlawfully intercept and access ABS-CBN’s copyrighted programming.”
While copyright infringement plays a role in the case, the requested damages are based on trademark infringement and a violation of the Communications Act, by importing and/or selling pirate devices.
$2.1 Million in Damages
The motion for a default judgment lists four trademark violations, for which ABS-CBN requests $500,000 in damages each. On top of that, it requests $100,000 for a violation of the Communications Act, bringing the total to $2.1 million.
“[T]he amounts requested are reasonable under the facts presented,” the motion reads, adding that this will help to achieve the intended goals of “compensation, punishment, and deterrence.”
In addition to monetary damages, the company also requests a permanent injunction to prevent Brown from selling pirate devices in the future.
The court has yet to rule on the motion. Without a defense from Brown, however, it is likely that the media company will indeed come out as the winner in this case.
For ABS-CBN a success will be welcome. The company currently finds itself in rough waters in its home country after the government declined to renew its franchise license. As a result, Philippines’ biggest broadcaster was forced to go off the air.
A copy of ABS-CBN’s motion for a default judgment against Anthony Brown is available here (pdf)