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Legal Analysis: UFC Files Anti-Piracy Case Against MMA Gym and Others

If You Mess with the Big Dogs You are Going to Get Bit

By Bryanna Fissori
Legal Analyst

On May 17 the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) filed a lawsuit against Without Limits MMA, a gym in Batesville, AR as well as owner Matt Sellers as the principal defendant. The gym allegedly broadcast UFC 126 “Silva v Belfort” without obtaining UFC permission. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Sellers was served the summons just days ago on June 21 and will have the standard 21 days to respond.

The UFC is contending that the defendant violated several statutes in copyright infringement, each bearing a different amount in statutory penalties.

47 U.S.C. §605 (a) “prohibits the unauthorized reception and publication or use of communications such as the transmission for which plaintiff had the distribution rights thereto.”

Maximum $110,000

47 U.S.C. §553 “prohibits the unauthorized reception, interception and exhibition of any communications service offered over a cable system such as the transmission for which plaintiff had the distribution rights thereto.”

Maximum $60,000

17 U.S.C § 501 (a) “Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122 or of the author as provided in section 106A(a), or who imports copies or phonorecords into the United States in violation of section 602, is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author, as the case may be. . .”

Maximum $150,000

According to the complaint, the court has the discretion to award a total of $320,000 for these “willful violations” not including attorney’s fees. That sum is significantly more than the $500-$1500 it would have cost the establishment to legally broadcast the event. It was not specified in the complaint whether Without Limits MMA charged viewers for the broadcast. Sellers did not respond to a request for comments.

The complaint also stated that there are numerous methods of illegally accessing the content including “(1) splicing an additional coaxial cable line or redirecting a wireless signal from an adjacent residence into a business establishment; (2) commercially misusing cable or satellite by registering same as a residence when it is, in fact, a business; or (3) taking a lawfully obtained box or satellite receiver from a private residence, into a business. In addition, emerging technologies, such as broadband or internet broadcast, as well as “slingbox” technology can allow commercial misuse of residential broadcasting feeds through the internet from anywhere in the world.”

“We are not responsible for proving how they stole it, but just that they did,” said Joe Hand of Joe Hand Promotions which is one of the nations largest distributors of closed circuit pay-view-events and the exclusive provider for the UFC. The company is frequently involved in litigation on piracy cases. According to Hand, the company has several methods of receiving information about illegal distribution including witnesses reporting the infringement directly to the company and employing their own investigators.

This is not the UFC’s first legal battle regarding distribution rights. Earlier this month the UFC filed a case against a “The Edge Bar and Grill” in Alda, Nebraska for illegally televising UFC 128 on March 19 without the company’s permission. The fight was between Jon Jones and Mauricio Rua. The complaint has been filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln. The company is seeking as much as $260,000 plus attorney’s fees.

In January 2010, the company filed a nearly identical case against “The Draft Bar and Grille” in the Boston area after the owner of the establishment transmitted a feed of UFC 104 on his laptop computer. The original complaint asked for $640,000 plus attorney’s fees.

According to the UFC illegal pay-per-view streams cost the company millions of dollars. Residential cost to purchase the fights are $44.95 per event and $10 more for the HD version. The cost for a business to purchase is depended upon the size of the venue. Depending on the region of the country you are in, the particular venue and who is fighting, most bars charge $5-$20 cover fee to view the fights.

In 2008 the UFC filed against 16 Canadian venues simultaneously for illegal distribution, but bars and pubs are not the only targets in the company’s quest to end piracy. A majority of illegal distribution of the events stems from internet feeds. Shortly after the case was filed against the Boston bar, the UFC identified as a perpetrator. The website, owned and operated by Moazzam Gandu of Standford, VA violated copyright laws by charging customers to view UFC events for $6.99 and allowing them to keep and distribute the content after subscribing.

Most live stream websites like Inc, who is also in the mist of litigation for the same accusations, do not charge patrons to view the events but instead gain revenue from advertising. Prior to filing the claim, the UFC contends that they had been addressing the issue with the defendants for nearly two years to no avail. The UFC stated in their claim against Inc. “Third-party contractors hired and paid for by Zuffa (UFC parent company) removed more than 200 infringing live streams of UFC 121 from the website.”

In November of 2010 Zuffa took on anti-piracy efforts through a different avenue and submitted a cease and desist letter to Google under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) demanding that the company stop returning results for websites showing the infringed material. The DMCA criminalizes the act of circumventing anti-priacy measures built into most commercial software. In general it also limits Internet service provider’s liability from copyright infringement for transmitting information over the internet, though they are expected to remove material from users’ websites that appears to constitute copyright infringement.

Youtube is already very cautious about allowing any material to be broadcast if it has even the possibility of being infringed. In March of this year a Youtube channel belonging to Gracie Acadamy and Rener Gracie, son of UFC co-creator Rorian Gracie was shut down. The channel utilized clips of UFC fights to demonstrate MMA techniques. Zuffa played no part in the revoking the channel though they agreed with the action by Youtube.

As of this time last year, according to Zuffa, the company had settled piracy cases with 500 business and individuals due to the efforts of their anti-piracy team.

“When people start going to jail, people will stop doing it,” said UFC President Dana White. “This is a fight we will not lose.”

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