ABS-CBN is the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines but also has a strong presence in the US.
This reach isn’t just limited to its online news and media, the company is active in the 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.
Selling Pirate Boxes on Facebook
The defendants are often ‘John Doe’ site operators but in December 2018, 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 boxes 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 which arrived at several damning conclusions.
According to the complaint, Brown didn’t just sell pirate boxes to the ABS-CBN representative. In private messages, chatting as “Ann Ong,” he also shared the name and address of his company, which matched the information tied to his PayPal address.
A Cut of The Business
On top of that, the defendant explained the ins-and-outs of his business, offering the investigator a piece of the action for 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 previously informed the court.
After ABS-CBN filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas not much happened. Brown was served last January but never responded to the allegations. As a result, the media company requested a default judgment.
The media company accused the Texas man of selling pirate boxes “that have been designed or modified to circumvent ABS-CBN’s encryption technology,” allowing customers to “unlawfully intercept and access ABS-CBN’s copyrighted programming.” To cover the alleged damages, the company demanded compensation.
While copyright infringement plays a role in the case, the requested damages are based on trademark infringement and a violation of the Communications Act, which Brown violated by importing and/or selling pirate devices.
Earlier this week, United States District Judge Jeffrey V. Brown ruled on the default judgment, ABS-CBN’s demands in part.
ABS-CBN initially listed four trademark violations, requesting $500,000 in damages each. On top of that, it asked for $100,000 for a violation of the Communications Act, bringing the total to $2.1 million.
However, during a hearing last week this demand was lowered to $1.6 million, effectively removing two trademark violations. While this appeared to be a kind gesture, it raises questions with the court.
“In support of this lower figure, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant was infringing on their two trademarks in two distinct services: cable services and online streaming services. Yet in the plaintiffs’ complaint, default-judgment motion, and evidence in support of that motion, there is no distinction made between these two services.”
“In light of the uncertainty about the amount of damages the plaintiffs request, and the relationship these damages have to the defendant’s sale of goods or services, the court invites the plaintiffs to file supplemental briefing to clarify this issue.”
This means that the court can’t grant any damages at this point. However, Judge Brown did issue a permanent injunction preventing the defendant from infringing ABC-ABS’s rights. That obviously includes a ban on selling pirate streaming boxes.
A copy of the order and the permanent injunction is available here (pdf).