During 2014, ABS-CBN, the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines, began a wave of legal action in the United States.
Seeking millions in damages, ABS-CBN’s California-based division targeted a wide range of sites said to have offered its programming without permission. The company’s latest suit, filed in November last year, listed dozens of allegedly infringing domains.
In a motion for default judgment filed in a Florida district court February 6, ABS-CBN outlined the alleged damages caused by the defendants in the case.
“Defendants were the active, conscious, and dominant force infringing the ABS-CBN Marks and facilitating access to illegal copies of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” the company wrote.
“When a user clicked on a link, the Defendants’ websites directed the user to a third-party server on which the content resided, and began to instantly stream a full-length video of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted content within a frame on the Defendants’ respective website for viewing.”
This activity was designed to generate revenue, ABS-CBN said.
“The large inventory of popular entertainment content available on Defendants’ websites, including full-length copies of daily programming and archived shows, was designed to attract users to the infringing content and, thus, increased Defendants’ profits from the advertisers who paid the Defendants based on the number of views that the advertising received,” the company added.
While the defendants operating the sites had the opportunity to defend themselves, for whatever reason they chose not to. This placed them at the mercy of the Court and the result could hardly have been worse.
On February 9, District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled in ABS-CBN’s favor, handing down a default judgment including a permanent injunction forbidding any further “advertising, promoting, performing, copying, broadcasting, performing, and/or distributing of Plaintiffs’ content or copyrighted works.”
In order to give the injunction “teeth”, Judge Ungaro ordered the defendants to hand over their domains to ABS-CBN within five days of the judgment. Failing that, registries currently in control of the domains were given 30 days to render them useless.
“Upon Plaintiffs’ request, the top level domain (TLD ) Registry for [each of the domains], within thirty (30) days of receipt of this Order, shall place [the domains] on Registry Hold status for the life of the current registration, thus removing them from the TLD zone files maintained by the Registry which link the [domains] to the IP addresses where the associated websites are hosted,” Judge Ungaro wrote.
The real pain, however, sits in the financial implications of the judgment. The Judge awarded ABS-CBN a total of $3,960,000 in damages and ordered interest to accrue until the amount had been paid in full.
But the wins for ABS-CBN weren’t over yet. Two days later in the same Court, Judge Beth Bloom handed down another default judgment against the operators of PINOY-AKO.INFO and PINOY-TAYO.NET.
In addition to a similar injunction, the TV company was awarded another $3,120,000 in damages, with both domains ordered to be handed over or disabled by their registries.
Whether ABS-CBN will see a penny of this money remains to be seen, but the big penalties handed down are likely to serve as a warning to those running similar unauthorized sites.
For some, such as the defendant in an earlier ABS-CBN case, the news comes too late. After being hounded by the TV company, in October 2014 the operator of Pinoymoviefan.com and Watchfilipinotv.com eventually signed a $10m consent judgment.