Brands are important for most businesses. They identify a service or product and are often associated with certain qualities.
This is no different in the piracy ecosystem. Brands are essential there as well but are not always what they seem.
Given the nature of pirate sites, brand copying is widespread. For example, EZTV is not operated by the original EZTV group, and the same goes for Torrentz, ExtraTorrent, NYAA, Popcorn Time, and many others. With the original operators gone or pushed aside, others have stepped in and taken over.
It is easy for copycats to jump in as there are no trademarks that offer protection and pirate sites are unlikely to sue each other. However, over the past weeks, trademark disputes have become a thing in piracy circles, leading to unprecedented outcomes.
In a consent judgment filed at a federal court in Hawaii this week, the operator of YTS.ws agreed to sign a consent judgment over his unauthorized use of the YTS trademark. YTS is the most popular torrent site online, which itself ‘copied’ the name from the defunct YTS group. However, this trademark claim isn’t being made by a torrent site.
Instead, the lawsuit was filed by Kerry Culpepper, a well-known anti-piracy lawyer. He works for the company 42 Ventures which registered several piracy-related trademarks a few months ago, including Popcorn Time, Showbox, and YTS. These trademarks are used to pressure piracy-related sites and services to pay settlements.
It’s a new scheme that raises all kinds of legal questions. However, pirate sites and services are not usually fond of litigating cases in court and in this case it’s no different. The owner of YTS.ws, a Russian man named Patrick Petrov, agreed to a settlement-type deal instead.
The consent order signed off by US District Court Judge Derrick Watson this week requires Petrov to pay $200,000 in damages.
In addition to paying a large sum of money, the YTS.ws operator agreed to a permanent injunction which requires him to stop using the YTS trademark within 30 days and to redirect the domain to a non-infringing site.
At the time of writing YTS.ws still operates as one of the many YTS copycats but, based on the agreement, this will change soon.
This is the first-ever case where the owner of a copycat pirate site has agreed to pay damages for trademark infringement. It may not be the last, however, as 42 Ventures has sued several other YTS sites as well.
Whether the Russian operator of the site will indeed pay $200,000 in damages is unknown. It’s not uncommon to list high damages amounts on paper while a lower amount is agreed upon behind the scenes.
A few weeks ago we reported that 42 Ventures had gone after a popular Popcorn Time fork, taking down their Twitter account. This revealed that both parties discussed a settlement to resolve the matter, which would cost the app’s developers ‘just’ $4,900.
A copy of the consent judgment agreed and signed by both parties and approved by the federal court is available here (pdf).