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Dunnington obtained a $12 million judgment for Russian broadcasters in the first case applying the Federal Communications Act of 1934 (“FCA”) to internet television piracy.  On June 16, 2020, the judgment was entered by the Hon. George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York against the operator of a service that offered unlimited internet television access for monthly credit card payments.  Section 605(a) of the FCA prohibits the unauthorized interception, publication, and use of interstate or foreign radio communications. FCA litigations were popular in the 1990s when cable television operators employed the statute against sellers and users of devices that unscrambled cable TV encryption.  The FCA is a powerful tool for content owners because of its significant minimum statutory damages ($1,000 per violation and $10,000 per device) together with mandatory attorneys’ fees.

In recent years, the FCA has been used mainly to pursue bars and restaurants for rebroadcasting pirated pay-per-view sporting events.  In this landmark ruling, however, Dunnington successfully argued for the FCA’s application to a new technology, internet protocol television (“IPTV”).  Today, “cord-cutters” are shifting to over the top internet television solutions (“OTT”) or IPTV—e.g. Fios, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube TV, Roku—to watch television programming traditionally distributed by antenna, cable, or satellite dish.  This growing market is filled with IPTV pirates who divert, decrypt and digitize satellite television programming. Pirates then resell to U.S. consumers at below market prices and advertise the stolen service through slick websites.  In the United States IPTV pirates often cater to expatriate communities.

On June 16, 2020, Judge George B. Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered judgment trebling the minimum statutory damages based on willfulness.  The defendants willfully obtained a pirated signal and developed a sophisticated IPTV content delivery networks to monetize the pirated programming to thousands of subscribers.

This case is a win for all broadcasters and content owners.  As a result, Broadcasters of television content now have powerful and cost-effective remedies to profitably pursue the growing number of IPTV pirates and to protect their paid subscriber base.  Dunnington has a full-service litigation team. For information on implementing an anti-piracy program, please contact Dunnington partners Ray Dowd, Sam Blaustein or Olivera Medenica.

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