Texas Court Orders Sports Streaming Sites To Be Blocked In Anticipation Of Piracy

from the pre-crime dept

A few years ago, we wrote about HBO and Showtime's somewhat novel decision to file a lawsuit against two sports streaming sites for copyright infringement that both claimed would happen... in the future. The lawsuit was filled with understandably novel language, but the fact remained that this was something akin to pre-crime enforcement, best demonstrated in the film Minority Report. One of the chief axioms of American law is that a crime must have occurred for punishment to be doled out. Injunctions are a departure from that, but actually suing for infringement when that infringement hadn't happened yet and, indeed, when the content to be infringed didn't even yet exist, seemed like a departure from the way the law works.

But perhaps this is a practice we'll see expanded, as it seems to be happening again. This time, a federal court in Texas has issued an injunction ordering ISPs to proactively block a group of streaming sites ahead of the Premier League cricket tournament.

This is also the path Indian media outfit Times Content Limited (TCL) decided to go down. The company operates the cricket channel Willow TV and owns the US broadcasting rights to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, which is currently ongoing. Two weeks ago the company sued several sports streaming sites including smartcric.com and crickethdlive.com. These sites allow users to watch cricket games for free over the Internet, without permission. To stop this from taking place, the Indian company requested a broad injunction, which the court granted last week.

The preliminary injunction (pdf) orders various third party providers to stop working with these sites effective immediately to prevent future copyright infringements. This also applies to any new domain names or websites the operators may launch.

Now, there are a couple of things to stipulate here. The websites in question appear to be common sports streaming sites that regularly infringe on the copyright of others. The injunction also suggests that Willow TV has attempted to communicate with the sites many times and has not received much in the way of a response. Whatever you think about copyright and sports streaming sites, it's not like Willow TV has no reason to complain here.

Still, when one paints a picture of justice on a legal system canvas, it's not simply about what picture you paint but how you paint it that's important. After all, precedence is a thing, as are the norms of how the law is carried out. The injunction's inclusion of language like the following seems to set us all on a dark path to prior restraint of speech.

...all service providers whose services will enable or facilitate Defendants' anticipated infringement are ordered to suspend all services with respect to [ the offending websites]...

Again, whatever you might think of sports streaming sites such as the defendant sites, opening the door to broad injunctions on the basis of future infringement seems like a mistake. It's a door that will almost certainly be barged through by copyright holders all over the place and is fertile soil for wanton abuse. The injunction goes to great lengths to acknowledge its order is based on all kinds of past infringing activities by the websites in question, but there is no clear standard for how much infringement must take place prior to a court being able to take down what is ultimately speech pre-emptively in anticipation of infringement in this way.

We must hope this practice is not expanded, or you can expect to see the collateral damage stories begin to appear.

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Filed Under: anticipation of infringement, copyright, infringement, pre-crime, sports, streaming, streaming sites
Companies: tcl, willow tv

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  1. icon
    killthelawyers (profile), 17 May 2017 @ 12:10pm

    Injunction on Nonparties

    That...is an odd ruling. Generally, a court cannot issue an injunction on nonparties. See, e.g., Citizens Alert Regarding the Env't v. U.S. E.P.A., 259 F. Supp. 2d 9, 17 (D.D.C. 2003), aff'd sub nom. Citizens Alert Regarding Env't v. E.P.A., 102 F. App'x 167 (D.C. Cir. 2004)(
    "[E]ven assuming arguendo that the Corps money were subject to NEPA, an injunction is not proper here because plaintiffs have not actually sued the Corps. As such, even if the Corps did fail to obey NEPA, that failure would not provide the Court a basis on which to enjoin JTSA (or any of the other state and municipal actors who have been named as defendants) from proceeding with construction of the pipeline. The Corps is not a party to this action, and the Court is therefore powerless to issue an injunction against it. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(d). Accordingly, the Court is unable to compel those who are parties not to act until the Corps complies with a directive that the Court simply lacks the authority to give.")

    The issue is that the court's power to grant an injunction is bound by Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 65(d) states that the court may bind:
    (A) the parties;
    (B) the parties' officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys; and
    (C) other persons who are in active concert or participation with anyone described in Rule 65(d)(2)(A) or (B).

    The issue here is that the ISPs are not a party and are seemingly not acting in active concert with the actual parties. It seems like an enormous stretch to say that an ISP, by fetching information from any user-submitted URL, is acting in active concert.

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