Court Criticizes Requested “Implausible Award” in UFC Piracy Case

Two patterns are clear when individuals and commercial establishments are sued for alleged piracy of UFC pay per view events.  When Defendant’s fail to respond Zuffa and their commercial distributors do pursue default judgement so it is not wise to ignore the litigation.  Secondly, when seeking damages Zuffa and their commercial distributors often seek damages far in excess of what courts are prepared to tolerate.

Adding to this site’s archived judgments of lawsuits addressing UFC piracy claims, further reasons for judgement were released last week by the United States District Court, E.D. California, consistent with the above pattern.

In last week’s case (Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Gonzales) the Defendant, who operated a commercial establishment, was sued for piracy after airing UFC 152 without paying the sub licencing fee of $1,600 allowing him to do so.  He was sued and failed to respond.  The Plaintiff obtained default judgement.  The Plaintiff sought $111,6000 in damages for the piracy.  The Court was not impressed with the requested maximum damages and instead found an award of $6,000 was appropriate in the circumstances.  In finding the lesser award was warranted Magistrate Judge Gary Austin provided the following reasons:

Here, Plaintiff requests enhanced statutory damages of $100,000.00, but fails to support its request for the maximum damages authorized by the statute with specific facts relating to the instant violation. The Court has discretion to increase the award of damages for each violation in an amount up to $100,000 when a “violation was committed willfully and for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or financial gain.” Backman, 102 F.Supp.2d at 1198. However, Plaintiff’s request for $100,000 in enhanced damages is based on a 3-minute investigation, a form affidavit from its investigator, and briefing that appears largely to be boilerplate. See J & J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Montano, 2013 WL 1680633, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2013) (No. 1:12-cv-00738-AWI-SAB) (“Determining whether Defendant’s actions were willful or egregious is hampered because Plaintiff filed a brief with minimal analysis of the facts specific to this case.”). Although the Court appreciates Plaintiff’s arguments regarding the need to deter piracy and its citations to cases awarding substantial damages, there is no evidence before the Court that details the specific financial and commercial impact of the violation at issue in this case.

As discussed above with regard to the statutory damages requested by Plaintiff, the most prominent fact supporting the imposition of enhanced statutory damages is that Defendant is a repeat offender. However, again, Plaintiff’s counsel does not specify whether the other violations at issue were egregious, or whether the instant violation occurred despite a prior judgment and damages award against the Defendant. Were Defendant to have committed the instant violation despite a previous judgment and damages award against him, the conclusion that Defendant was acting willfully and deserving of an “especially severe financial deterrent” would be justified. Backman,102 F.Supp.2d at 1199 (“egregious willfulness” may “warrant harsh punitive damages”). Here the record does not support the conclusion that the Defendant acted with egregious willfulness and for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or financial gain. The Court cannot award the statutory maximum amount of enhanced damages without adequate factual support for such an award in Plaintiff’s moving papers. See Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Streshly, 655 F. Supp. 2d 1136, 1139 (S.D. Cal. 2009) (finding Plaintiff Joe Hand Promotions, Inc.’s request for $100,000.00 in enhanced damages plus $875.00 in other damages “particularly distressing because Plaintiff (and Plaintiff’s counsel) has obviously filed these piracy lawsuits before, and must know that $100,875 is an implausible award”). Nonetheless, in light of the allegation that Plaintiff is a repeat offender, the Court will award enhanced statutory damages in the amount of $1000.00.


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