Copyright owners file copyright infringement suit against online streaming service provider. COLUMBIA v. GALINDO

Copyright owners file copyright infringement suit against online streaming service provider. COLUMBIA v. GALINDO

Copyright grants the creator of a new work of expression a number of exclusive rights. The rights granted by copyright include the right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the work, to publicly perform the work, to publicly display the work and to publicly transmit the work. When person other than the copyright owner exercises one of these exclusive rights that can be considered copyright infringement.

The Copyright laws of the United States were written long before computers were as common as they are today. The law makers that created the copyright law had no way of knowing about the technological advances that would be made in the past few decades. In the past to reproduce a movie it would take specialized equipment and copies would need to be physically moved from one place to another. Today a movie can easily be turned into a digital file and distributed around the world in a matter of minutes.

Courts have held that downloading an entire copyrighted movie is copyright infringement because a copy of the movie has been made. But what if a copy of the movie is not made?

Streaming media is content sent in compressed form over the Internet and displayed by the viewer in real time. With streaming media, a user does not have to wait to download a file to play it. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous stream of data and is played as it arrives. The user needs a player, which is a special program that decompresses and sends video data to the display and audio data to speakers. A player can be embedded in a common web browser or a separate program. Technology such as streaming media did not exist when the copyright laws of the United States were written.

The question then becomes whether streaming a copyrighted movie infringes the copyright of the artist that created the movie. At first some courts held that streaming a copyrighted movie was more like sneaking into a movie theater without buying a ticket. The activity was not legal but it was not considered copyright infringement. There were opposing decisions from different courts on whether streaming copyrighted material was copyright infringement. When different courts interpret the same law it is up to the Supreme Court of the United States to determine how the law should be interpreted.

The Supreme Court ruled on whether streaming media is copyright infringement in American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, 573 U.S. 431 (U.S. 2014). In that case Aereo was recording live television broadcasts and streaming the recordings to users. The court held that Aereo’s actions were copyright infringement. The court reasoned that the streaming was a public performance, even if a stream was only sent to one user. The court looked at the intent of the law, and reasoned that the intent was to prevent streaming, even if the text of the law did not specifically mention streaming.

COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC. v. ALEJANDRO GALINDO, 2:20-cv-03129 (C.D.CA 2020) is a case which involves copyright owners banding together to combat a streaming service that is distributing content without the permission.

Defendants own and operate the Internet Protocol television (“IPTV”) service commonly referred to as Nitro TV. Defendants offer Nitro TV subscription packages consisting of thousands of live and title-curated television
channels available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the United States and abroad. The channels available on Nitro TV include many of the world’s most popular television programs and motion pictures.  Nitro TV regularly distributes information to users on how to mask their use of Nitro TV and anonymously use the service.  Defendants also operate anonymously using several different tactics to mask their identity.  The named Defendant in the case operates a social media page that promotes Nitro TV.

Defendants also have a network of resellers that bulk purchase subscriptions to Nitro TV and then resell the subscriptions for a profit.  Some resellers have boasted that they have sold over 45,000 subscriptions in a year.

Plaintiffs produce and distribute a significant portion of the world’s most sought-after, critically acclaimed, and award-winning television programs and motion pictures.  When the Plaintiffs learned that their copyrighted works were being distributed without permission they filed a complaint for copyright infringement.  Plaintiffs allege that Defendants illegally and unfairly compete with live TV streaming service providers who pay for permission to retransmit broadcast television, while refusing to pay for the commercially bargained-for licenses that the law requires.

Defendants have not answered the complaint yet, but given the anonymous nature of the Defendant’s service it is unlikely they will ever show up to court.

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