The Details of the Commercial License Agreement Can Be a Defense

Posted on August 15, 2015 by Matthew Paré

In order to have standing to sue, the plaintiffs in TV signal piracy cases must have proprietary rights in the TV program.  The relevant statute requires the plaintiff as an aggrieved party to have those proprietary rights; in other words, the plaintiff must have ownership of intellectual property rights regarding that TV program.  This is common sense because it would be illogical for a company to be suing people and businesses for showing something on TV that it did not have any rights to itself.  Significantly, however, the plaintiffs in TV signal piracy cases do not always have the proprietary rights that they claim to and the lack of those rights can be a very effective defense in some cases.  

The way this whole system works is that the original exhibition rights regarding a typical boxing program on TV start with a company such as Golden Boy Promotions, LLC or Top Rank, Inc.  Those companies sell the exhibition rights to other companies such as J & J Sports Productions, Inc., for example, in a contract called the closed circuit television license agreement (or the commercial license agreement or just license agreement for short).  That written contract, the license agreement, spells out what rights J & J Sports Productions, Inc. purchased regarding the TV program in question.  A very careful analysis of the license agreement can reveal that the plaintiff may not have the rights it claims to have and if that is the case there may be a good defense to the case.  For this reason it is very important never to settle a TV signal piracy claim against you without having an opportunity to see the plaintiff’s evidence, including the commercial license agreement.  

In analyzing the license agreement, there are several ways in which the plaintiff’s rights can be limited.  Each of the common limitations will be discussed in turn below.

First, there are geographic limitations.  The contract will specify that J & J Sports Productions, Inc. purchased the exhibition rights in a defined area.  There are often exceptions where certain counties, usually in the surrounding area of the event itself, where there were no rights granted.  

Second, there are time limitations.  The time limitations often describe that the exhibition rights purchased are for live, simultaneous exhibitions, and there will be no rights for a delayed exhibition.  

Third, there are limitations regarding the type of establishments that the plaintiff has the exhibitions rights in.  Often the license agreement will specify that the rights conveyed are for exhibitions in theaters, bars, clubs, lounges, and restaurants.  The plaintiffs in TV signal piracy cases frequently claims it has all non-residential exhibition rights, but if the contract specifies only certain types of establishments and a defendant establishment does not fit into those categories there can be a defense there.  

Finally, there are some instances where there is literally no written license agreement, and that is obviously a good defense.  G & G Closed Circuit Events, LLC in particular many times has claimed it has exhibition rights to programs based merely on an oral agreement with Showtime Networks, Inc.  The defendants in these cases have a good defense because there must be a written contract signed by the grantor in order to convey intellectual property rights.

The larger point regarding the possible defects in the commercial license agreement is that an experienced attorney will be necessary in order to property evaluate your case. No assumptions should be made regarding the plaintiff’s claims about having the rights to a particular program.  The details of the commercial license agreement are important and can be used as a defense in TV signal piracy cases.  The plaintiffs in signal piracy cases will not typically disclose the evidence voluntarily or before a lawsuit is filed so the formal discovery procedures in litigation will have to be used.  There is no other attorney in the country that is more familiar with these issues than attorney Matthew Pare.  He was the pioneer in this area of the law.  Matthew Pare has been successful regarding these above-described defenses in TV signal piracy cases, and is the most qualified attorney to analyze and scrutinize the plaintiff’s claim in a TV signal piracy case to assert the strongest possible defense on your behalf.  He can be contacted at 619-869-4999 and always provides a free initial consultation.

TV Signal Piracy

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