Court Finds Federal Piracy Statutes Can Be Used to Prosecute Internet Streaming

Adding to this site’s archived posts addressing combat sports piracy, reasons for judgement were released recently by the US District Court, E.D. New York, finding that federal piracy statutes can be used in a piracy prosecution involving internet streaming.

In the recent case (Joe Hand Promotions, Inc v. Maupin) the UFC’s parent Company (Zuffa) along with their commercial distributor (Joe Hand Promotions) sued the Defendants alleging they displayed UFC 163 at a commercial establishment without paying the commercial sub-licencing fees.

As is typical in such prosecutions the Plaintiffs relied on federal legislation imposing potentially steep penalties for radio communication and cable theft.

The Defendants brought a motion to dismiss the claims noting that the federal legislation does not apply to internet streaming.  District Judge Arthur Spatt disagreed and provided a broad interpretation of the legislation allowing the prosecution to continue.  In finding the legislation can apply to internet piracy the Court provided the following reasons:

The question presented is whether an initial broadcast (not a rebroadcast)—that was received over the internet without proper license or permission and publicly exhibited—violates Sections 553 and 605. It appears that no court in the Second Circuit has directly answered this question, and the parties have not cited any such decisions in their papers…

Courts in other circuits have analyzed and answered this question, with varying results…

This Court agrees with the courts that have allowed plaintiffs to proceed under a theory of liability that contemplates interception of communications via the internet. First, the language of the statutes does not preclude communications sent via the internet. Various courts, including courts in the Second Circuit consider communication sent over the internet to be communication sent via wire…

Furthermore, this interpretation is in line with the purpose of the statute—to prevent theft of cable and satellite programming…

The Plaintiffs here have alleged that the Defendants circumvented their licensing structure by streaming the Telecast from the UFC’s website and paying a residential rate instead of a commercial one, thereby illegally intercepting and exhibiting the Telecast. The Defendants allegedly did this using internet access provided by their cable provider. Courts have found that commercial defendants could be liable where they only paid the residential rate for a pay-per-view program…

Accordingly, the Court finds that the type of interception and exhibition at issue here can provide a basis for liability under the FCA, and that the Plaintiff has alleged facts that plausibly allege that the Defendants violated Sections 553 and 605.


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