US Court Orders 21 Pirate Site Operators to Pay $1 Million Each in Damages

pirate-flagThe entertainment industry’s battle against pirate sites is frequently described as a cat-and-mouse game.

The site operators are often anonymous or located in exotic countries, completely ignoring any and all legal threats.

Take The Pirate Bay, for example. While the site’s founders were convicted over a decade ago, the site continues to thrive. It’s still accessible from its original .org domain name but the current operator is unknown.

The Pirate Bay is just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally thousands of pirate sites in all kinds of flavors. Some offer a wide variety of content while others specialize in a niche, such as “pinoy” movies and series.

Pinoy is the term Filipinos use to refer to Philippine culture and content, including entertainment. This content is the core business of the Philippine media conglomerate ABS-CBN, which has been rather active in US courts in recent years.

ABS-CBN Sues Pirate Sites

While US-media giants rarely file lawsuits against pirate sites on their home turf, ABS-CBN has sued well over a hundred. Earlier this year, for example, it filed a copyright and trademark infringement complaint against 21 “John Doe” site operators at a federal court in Florida.

The defendants are mostly running smaller “pinoy” streaming sites. The legal paperwork lists 40 ‘pirate’ domains including pinoymovies.org, pinoyhd.net, pinoysflix.su, 123fullpinoymovieshub.com, and craigwhittakermp.co.uk.

At first sight, craigwhittakermp.co.uk is an odd name on that list. The domain was previously connected to the conservative British MP Craig Whittaker, but it was later taken over by pirates, who turned it into a streaming portal.

As is often the case with these lawsuits, none of the defendants made an appearance in court. This prompted ABS-CBN to request a default judgment, including a permanent injunction and damages for both copyright and trademark infringement. Last week, this motion was granted by District Court Judge James Cohn.

‘Millions in Damages’

Without a word from any of the defendants, the court approved the request for $1 million in trademark infringement damages against each of the site operators. In addition, six of the defendants also have to pay between $30,000 and $90,000 for copyright infringement offenses.

Finally, the operator of thefilipinochannel.su has to pay an extra $10,000 for cybersquatting, as the domain name is confusingly similar to one of ABS-CBN’s registered trademarks.

The order is a massive windfall for the media giant, at least on paper. However, without knowing who the operators are and where they’re located, it will be quite a challenge to get paid. And that’s assuming that the defendants have the financial means to pay.

ABS-CBN is aware of this problem and anticipated it to some degree. In addition, there’s a bigger goal, and that’s to make sure that the sites are no longer available. On that front, the media giant succeeded.

Seized Ad Revenue and Domains

The default judgment includes a permanent injunction that requires advertising networks and payment providers to hand over the revenues these pirate sites generated. These funds, at services such as Popads and Google Adsense, were previously restrained.

“All funds currently restrained by the financial institutions, advertising services, advertising networks, or advertising platforms, payment processors, banks […] are to be immediately (within 5 business days), transferred […] to Plaintiffs and/or Plaintiffs’ counsel in partial satisfaction of the monetary judgment entered herein against each Defendant,” the order reads.

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In addition to securing these funds, the domain registrars connected to these pirate sites must hand over the domain names to ABS-CBN.

“In order to give practical effect to the Permanent Injunction, the domain names […] are hereby ordered to be immediately transferred by Defendants, their assignees and/or successors in interest or title, and the Registrars to Plaintiff’s control.”

If the current registrars don’t comply, ABS-CBN can take the matter to the controlling registry. The registries, such as .ORG’s Public Interest Registry, are then instructed to put the domains on hold and remove them from the TLD zone files.

Effective Strategy?

The lawsuit already succeeded in taking several pirate sites offline. At the time of writing, 18 domain names point to a serving notice page where visitors are informed about the legal action. This includes all .org, .com, .to, and .net domains.

Ten .su domain names are still operational, while eight redirect to a new domain. The remaining four domains have yet to be seized but are down for a different reason, as shown in the overview at the bottom of this article.

It is hard to tell how effective this legal strategy is. After all, the site operators whose domains have been seized could simply continue with another domain name. In that case, ABS-CBN will have to start over again.

That said, the lawsuit shows that something can be done against foreign pirate sites through the US court system. In theory, that could also affect The Pirate Bay, which uses a .org domain, but the infamous torrent site has shown before that it’s willing to switch to new domains if needed.

A copy of the default judgment in favor of ABS-CBN is available here (pdf). Below is an overview of the 40 affected domains and their status at the time of writing.

– 123fullpinoymovieshub.com (serving notice)
– craigwhittakermp.co.uk (serving notice)
– filpinereplay.com (serving notice)
– futuregallery.co.uk (serving notice)
– garmoshka.su (redirect to new domain)
– griefworld.su (still operational)
– lambingantv.su (suspended by hosting company)
– pinoy-channels.su (no DNS record)
– pinoytambayanteleseryetv.su (no DNS record)
– pinoyteleserye.su (still operational)
– pinoytvlambingans.su (redirect to new domain)
– pinoytvteleseryes.net (serving notice)
– creatomic.co (serving notice)
– fullpinoymovieshub.com (serving notice)
– hdfullmovies.net (serving notice)
– kapamilyaforever.su (redirect to new domain)
– tambyanteleseyre.com (serving notice)
– kshows.club (serving notice)
– moviesnipipay.co (serving notice)
– pinoyflixteleserye.su (still operational)
– pinoyhdnishai.com (serving notice)
– pinoyteleseryelambingan.net (serving notice)
– pinoy-hd.asia (redirect to new domain)
– pinoyhd.net (serving notice)
– pinoyhdflix.su (still operational)
– pinoys1tv.su (still operational)
– pinoystvtambayan.su (still operational)
– pinoytambayanonline.su (still operational)
– replaypinoytvs.su (redirect to new domain)
– thefilipinochannel.su (cloudflare time-out)
– wikisaji.su (still operational)
– pinoyhdteleserye.com (serving notice)
– pinoymovies.ch (redirect to new domain)
– pinoymovies.org (serving notice)
– pinoymovieshub.to (serving notice)
– pinoysflix.su (still operational)
– pinoysmovieshub.su (still operational)
– pinoysreplays.su (redirect to new domain)
– pinoyteleseryehdreplay.net (serving notice)
– teleseryeonline.su (redirect to new domain)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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