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Copyright infringement and piracy: US court holds IPTV device retailer accountable

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MUMBAI: A bankruptcy court in Florida (US) has ruled that Amit Bhalla, a retailer of IPTV streaming devices with unauthorised channels, cannot use a bankruptcy case to shield himself from monetary liability for copyright infringement.

In 2016, the US District Court for the Central District of California issued a permanent injunction halting the unlawful distribution of television content from programmers CCTV and TVB on TVpad devices. DISH Network, which has the exclusive rights to distribute much of CCTV's and TVB's content in the United States (including through its Sling TV OTT service), and CICC, an affiliate of CCTV, were also plaintiffs in that underlying lawsuit, which began in 2015.

Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) is a popular producer of Cantonese-language television programming. Originally aired in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the programmes are broadcast in the US on 10 channels. CCTV distributes seven international channels in the US. DISH provides around 13 million pay-TV subscribers over 200 national HD channels, international channels and award-winning HD and DVR technology.

The plaintiffs alleged that the manufacturers and distributors of the TVpad device set up a pirate broadcasting network designed to stream CCTV and TVB channels without authorisation.

The court ordered manufacturers and distributors of TVpad to pay US$ 55 million in damages to DISH, TVB, CCTV and CICC, and the injunction prohibited retailers from distributing, advertising, marketing or promoting TVpad and comparable devices that deliver CCTV's or TVB's copyrighted content.

Rather than accept responsibility for his actions, Bhalla chose to file for bankruptcy in an attempt to avoid being held financially accountable. Citing Bhalla's willful and malicious conduct, the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida. The court granted the motion, and Bhalla must now pay plaintiffs US$ 4.4 million for copyright and trademark infringement.

"This ruling sends an important message to retailers who think they can get away with profiting off pirated content: you will eventually be held accountable, and a bankruptcy filing will not protect you," said TVB USA vice-president - operations Samuel Tsang. "Our hope is that, as a result of this ruling, retailers will stop selling content obtained through illegal means and instead serve their customers with legal, reliable content and devices," Tsang added.

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