Courts order $32M damages in ATN/Alfa TV piracy case. IBCAP, Nagra support DISH

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The International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy announced that a federal district court and a federal bankruptcy court, both in Florida, have ordered the US-based sellers of the pirate service ATN, to pay $32,100,000 in combined damages for willful copyright infringement. The evidence for this case was collected by IBCAP’s anti-piracy lab in coordination with NAGRA.

Hisham Manse Ibrahem and Nezar Saeed Hammo were selling the ATN service through a company known as Alfa TV Inc., which was also found liable, along with Haitham Mansi, a Sweden-based owner and operator of Alfa TV, Inc.  The ATN service is no longer carrying IBCAP-protected channels in the U.S.

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Swedish connection

ATN began in Sweden as Advanced TV Network in 2010.  Nordic Content Protection, an anti-piracy industry group for Nordic broadcasters, found that ATN had provided its customers with access to illegal pirate streams.  Billing itself as the “Biggest Arabic IPTV Provider in the World” with over 2,000 channels and a focus on channels emanating from the Middle East and Turkey, ATN was raided in 2016.

The owners were convicted for criminal copyright infringement and ordered in 2018 by Swedish authorities to pay $24 million each and sentenced to prison for one to 2 1/2 years.  Even after that conviction, Elafnet was distributed in the United States.

What was infringed

In about March 2018, the defendants began to conceal the way that they offered the unlicensed channels by requiring users to stream them software pre-loaded to ATN’s set-top box.  In May 2018, an investigator for DISH purchased an ATN set-top box with a 12-month subscription through the Web site for $195.00.

Soon the investigator received a subscription code for the pre-installed Galaxy TV app, which had to be entered manually to gain access to TV channels.  These channels were protected by distribution agreements between DISH and the programming suppliers (which are listed in the document linked below).

The DISH investigator turned on his ATN set-top box again, and access to the infringing app appeared (Source: DISH-Alfa TV complaint, 2020)

Two years later, the investigator purchased another ATN set-top through the same Web site, and this time, upon power-up, the box automatically connected to the protected channels.

The complaint was filed in Florida because the return address for the boxes was in Orlando.  The complaint alleged that the defendants knew that they were infringing DISH’s copyrights, as DISH had sent at least 20 notices between November 2013 and October 2020 when the complaint was filed.

The penalty

The Court determined that the defendants “induced and materially contributed to copyright infringement in violation of the Copyright Act and 17 U.S.C. § 501.

DISH is awarded damages of $16,050,000 against Defendants pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), which consists of $150,000 for each of DISH’s 107 registered, copyrighted works that Defendants willfully and maliciously infringed. Defendants shall be jointly and severally liable to DISH for the damages award.

Avoidance through bankruptcy

One of the co-defendants, Nezar Saeed Hammo, filed bankruptcy during the pendency of the district court action in an attempt to avoid liability. An adversary complaint was filed against Mr. Hammo to determine the non-dischargeability of the debt against him. As with similar actions against willful copyright infringers, the bankruptcy court ruled the judgment non-dischargeable, again showing that infringers cannot use the bankruptcy system to avoid liability for willful copyright infringement.

Both courts ordered the defendants to cease “distributing, providing, selling, or promoting any product, or service, including ATN set-top boxes, apps, service subscriptions, and any other set-top boxes and television subscription services, that reproduce, copy, transmit, stream, distribute, or publicly perform any of the [IBCAP Member Channels at issue] or any of the programming that comprises or appears on any of the [IBCAP Member Channels at issue] in the United States.”

Further details

Read the January 2023 District Court Order

Read the January 2023 Bankruptcy Court Order.

Read the October 2020 complaint, Case 6:20-cv-01896, filed by DISH Network. DISH Network LLC, Plaintiff, v. ALFA TV Inc. HAITHAM MANSI aka Haitham al-Heti, HISHAM MANSE IBRAHEM, NEZAR SAEED HAMMO and MOHAMMED ABU OUN aka Mohammad Abuoun,  individually and together dba Elafnet TV

Read the list of channels being redistributed illegally by ALFA TV / Elafnet TV

Why it matters

“Yet again, the federal courts have levied huge financial awards against individuals in the U.S. who were selling pirate services,” said Chris Kuelling, executive director of IBCAP. “This case is another example of why it is not worth the risk for retailers to sell pirate services. It is also important to point out that sellers of pirate services cannot use bankruptcy to shield against their illegal activities.”

“Here, as with other willful copyright infringers who have sought to use bankruptcy to avoid judgments, the bankruptcy court concluded that the judgment against Mr. Hammo is not discharged by the bankruptcy,” said Mr. Kuelling

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