$16m Pirate IPTV Lawsuit Magically Returns $32m Thanks to Bankruptcy
Advanced TV Network (ATN) was an IPTV service in Sweden that supplied more than a thousand TV channels to customers via the Internet. In 2008, that was an unusual achievement.
ATN gave the impression of operating legally. As a registered company it was generating annual sales of around $7 million by 2013 and paid taxes to the state. However, the content ATN supplied to its customers had illegal origins.
A police raid in 2016 led to three of its operators being convicted two years later for criminal copyright infringement, among other offenses.
All three were handed prison sentences and ordered to pay $24 million in damages to rightsholders, but the service itself lived on after relocating to the United Arab Emirates. Utilizing overseas resellers, ATN continued its business in Europe and North America but ran into more trouble in 2020. An IBCAP investigation led to a DISH lawsuit that targeted the pirate IPTV service’s official distributor in the United States.
DISH Lawsuit Takes a Second Bite
Filed in a Florida district court in October 2020, the complaint alleged that Alfa TV Inc. was operated in the United States by individuals associated with ATN. In the complaint, Florida resident Hisham Manse Ibrahem was named as the company’s president, Haitham Mansi its vice-president. Nezar Saeed Hammo allegedly acted as Alfa’s marketing manager while Mohammed Abu Oun was identified as the company’s general manager.
DISH alleged that the men and Alfa TV Inc. did business under the pirate IPTV brand ElafnetTV, which in turn described itself as the “Biggest Arabic IPTV Provider in the World.” After failing to respond to takedown notices, IBCAP/DISH ran out of patience and sought $150,000 in statutory damages for at least 107 registered works – a total of $16,050,000.
With the pandemic causing chaos and less than cooperative defendants, progress in the case was slow. Then on May 21, 2021, Alfa TV marketing manager Nezar Saeed Hammo filed for bankruptcy in Florida. Within days DISH moved to hold Alfa TV Inc. and Hisham Ibrahem in contempt of court, and then filed for default judgment against Haitham Mansi, who countered in August 2021 by answering the lawsuit.
After almost a year of subsequent filings, in July 2022 the court announced that a jury trial had been scheduled for July 3, 2023. What followed was six months of complete silence and then a sudden flurry of activity last month.
Docket Comes Alive, IBCAP Celebrates Judgments Worth $32m
In an announcement yesterday, the International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP) celebrated wins for its member, DISH, in both the district court and bankruptcy court in Florida.
“[A] federal district court and a federal bankruptcy court, both in Florida, have ordered Hisham Manse Ibrahem and Nezar Saeed Hammo, U.S.-based sellers of the pirate service ATN, to pay $32,100,000 in combined damages for willful copyright infringement,” IBCAP’s announcement reads.
“Both individuals 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.”
As previously noted, Nezar Saeed Hammo filed for bankruptcy in May 2021. IBCAP says that since the move was an attempt to avoid liability, an adversary complaint was filed 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,” IBCAP notes.
A Win is a Win – Even When Defendants Agree to Lose
While IBCAP’s statement is technically accurate, liability was only established after consent was obtained from the defendants. On January 10, 2023, a stipulation was filed jointly by DISH and defendants Alfa TV Inc., Haitham Mansi, and Hisham Manse Ibrahem. This meant that the judge didn’t have to determine liability on the merits, because an agreement between the plaintiff and defendants established that as fact.
“DISH and Defendants request that the Court enter a final judgment and permanent injunction against Defendants. This stipulation has no effect on DISH’s claims against co-defendants Nezar Saeed Hammo and Mohammed Abu Oun,” it reads (pdf).
The proposed order and injunction (pdf) was signed by the judge the very next day. A note that each party will bear its own attorneys’ fees and costs may hint at the realities behind the scenes, but cast-iron confidentiality agreements mean the details are unlikely to see the light of day.
And Then There Were Two…
In response to Nezar Saeed Hammo filing for bankruptcy in May 2021, DISH filed a complaint against him in August the same year. That docket runs to 51 entries with the penultimate entry (dated January 12, 2023) revealing another stipulated motion for final judgment and permanent injunction.
The agreement between DISH and the apparently penniless Hammo is almost identical to the separate agreement signed by his colleagues. However, by admitting his actions were “willful and malicious,” the $16 million Hammo owes DISH in damages is rendered non-dischargeable.
Each party will bear its own attorneys’ fees and costs in this matter too, but the real magic lies elsewhere.
The original complaint filed by DISH demanded $150,000 in statutory damages for 107 registered works – a total of $16,050,000. From the same pool of defendants, with exactly the same damages claims, DISH has managed to double the original request for damages to more than $32 million.
IBCAP Says It’s Pleased With The Result
As some may have noticed, a defendant named in the original complaint is absent from these judgments. DISH voluntarily dismissed Mohammed Abu Oun from the lawsuit on January 18, 2023, but without prejudice. In theory, that raises the possibility of another $16 million in agreed damages later on. Whether any of the defendants expect to pay anything is unknown but IBCAP says it’s pleased with the outcome.
“Yet again, the federal courts have levied huge financial awards against individuals in the U.S. who were selling pirate services,” says 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.”
Meanwhile, the ATN IPTV service is still online, but IBCAP says its members’ content is no longer being made available. In a statement sent to TorrentFreak, IBCAP notes that while DISH puts its name on the lawsuit as the rightsholder, IBCAP itself does most of the work.
“IBCAP is the driver behind these lawsuits. As a coalition that represents the interests of more than 170 channels, our lab and analysts, team of lawyers, and other experts are instrumental in identifying pirate sources of content and we have a very high success rate in taking down illegal streams without litigation,” the anti-piracy group notes.
“On behalf of our members, IBCAP is responsible for all monitoring, pre-litigation investigations, legal resources and efforts, including takedowns and the identification of non-compliant sources of our members’ content. Once identified, we guide our members to take final legal action to protect content. As the final part of this process, our members have to do the actual filing because they are the rightsholder.
“However, it is IBCAP doing the pre-litigation work, takedown efforts, identifying the targets for lawsuits and providing the necessary evidence to achieve a successful outcome,” the group concludes.
Documents related to both actions can be found here (1,2,3,4,5,6, all pdf)
From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.