The Internet Defense to TV Piracy Cases

Posted on June 29, 2015 by Matthew Paré

The two federal statutes (laws) that apply to TV signal piracy cases were drafted long before the internet was widely used, and certainly before it was used by the public to stream videos. The relevant statutes basically apply to theft of cable TV service (47 U.S.C. section 553), and theft of a satellite TV signal (47 U.S.C. section 605).  Therefore, if someone receives video programming via the internet that means of transmission falls outside of the coverage of these statutes and is essentially a defense in an alleged case of TV signal piracy.

The first case ever to directly address this issue was the case of Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. vs. Michael E. Cusi, et al. (Stronghold Crossfit & Brazilan Jiu Jitsu), Case No. 3:13-cv-00935-MMA-BLM in the Southern District of California.  The citation is Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Cusi, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66474 (S.D. Cal. May 14, 2014).  Defendants were represented by attorney Matthew Pare in that case.  The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment and it was a complete victory.  Other cases touched upon this issue somewhat indirectly, but this case with the Stronghold Gym was the first to directly address whether receiving a pay-per-view fight program via the internet was a violation of the federal TV piracy statutes and the court determined that it was not.  In other words, the defendants were completely off the hook and won that case.  

It is clear that with time and advances in the technology more and more people will receive and display video content via the internet.  This is becoming much more common in many types of establishments as well as for personal use.  There are even legitimate devices you can purchase that can be used to help stream internet videos on TVs.  If a business of any kind is sued for TV signal piracy and they were actually viewing something from the internet they have a good defense.  There is a legal precedent that should be used in support of the defense of the case, namely the Stronghold decision described above.  This type of scenario often comes up when someone hooks a laptop computer up to TV screens in a bar, restaurant, gym, or any type of business and displays sports programming.  Of course any device that has access to the internet such as a tablet or smart phone can be used in a similar manner.

The only appropriate point at which to raise this defense in a conclusive fashion is at the motion for summary judgment stage of the litigation, after the discovery phase of the lawsuit is complete.  If a defendant attempts to raise this issue too early the plaintiff will claim that it needs more time for discovery to investigate the means of transmission and to take depositions, for example, regarding the matter and send subpoenas to the possible TV service providers.  The court would have no choice but to allow the plaintiff to be given that opportunity.  Therefore, the motion for summary judgment must only be filed after the discovery deadline.  

Despite the precedent regarding this issue, the plaintiff in this type of TV signal piracy case will likely have a very different position and will certainly not agree to dismiss the case because defendants claim the TV program was received from the internet.  The plaintiff will likely argue that the Stronghold case is not binding precedent on other federal courts (because it is the trial court decision from one U.S. District Court), and while that is true it should be highly persuasive authority that other federal judges should follow.  The plaintiff will likely also argue that the terms of use described by the website where you bought the program state that it was not for public viewing and was only for private, personal use in a residential dwelling or something to that effect.  Even if the terms of use, however, state something like that it does not matter because the important point is whether the signal was received over the internet, in other words the means of transmission, that is all.  The same essential defense could be raised if the signal was received from a piracy website and there was no purchase at all because again the defense is that the federal TV signal piracy statutes do not even apply to internet signals.

The internet defense to TV piracy cases is one of the strongest defenses to a case of TV piracy.  In order to appropriately and effectively assert this defense in your TV signal piracy case you need the representation of the very best signal piracy attorney.  The pioneer in this field who established this precedent is attorney Matthew Pare.  Mr. Pare defends TV piracy cases throughout the country and is the only attorney with the necessary experience and proven results to win your case.  Contact Matthew Pare at 619-869-4999 today.

TV Signal Piracy

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