Swedish court fines Arabic TV pirate channel and sends owners to prison

July 5 – A Swedish court has ordered an Arabic internet TV company to pay 210 million Swedish crowns in damages for distributing content including English Premier League soccer without permission.

The Stockholm district court ordered the Sweden-based Advanced TV Network (ATN), which distributes Arabic-language content over the internet, to pay 194.8 million crowns ($22.3 million) in damages to Qatar’s beIN Sports and 14.6 million crowns ($1.7 million) to Albanian TV group DigitAlb.

Nordic Content Protection, the anti-piracy industry group for Nordic broadcasters, originally filed the complaint against ATN to Sweden’s Intellectual Property Crime at National Operations Department and the International Prosecution Office in 2016. The three defendants were tried for various crimes under Swedish law including Violation of the Decoder Act, Violation of the Copyright Act, Crimes against the Offensive Weapons Act and Crime against the Trademark Act.

“It is, according to the court’s opinion, shown beyond reasonable doubt that ATN at no time … had the rights to broadcast the beIN channels in question,” the court said in a verdict dated June 29.

The Stockholm court also sentenced ATN owner Hamid al-Hamid, 58, to two and a half years in prison, while his son Ahmed and another business associate were sentenced to one year each. All three were found guilty of charges including misuse of decoding information and copyright violations. Both are intending to appeal the verdict.

ATN supposedly declared bankruptcy in September 2016, according to the court document. It argued in court that it had distributed the content with the necessary agreements from the content owners.

Even so, the ATN operation, during the course of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, has restreamed FIFA-owned content from another pirate channel, beoutQ, which is distributed via Arabsat from Saudi Arabia.

ATN is based in Malmö, Sweden but also has operations in the United States, Greece, Denmark and Canada. It steals and then decodes TV channel signals, then packaging and re-transmitting television broadcasts to its own paying clientele. The pirate network has illegally pirated streams of over 2,000 channels, with a focus on channels emanating from the Middle East and Turkey.

Anders Braf, CEO of Nordic Content Protection said: “We are delighted that the Swedish courts have taken a strong stance against the industrial piracy perpetrated by ATN. Our membership is comprised of the leading broadcasters and content makers in the Nordic region and we all share a common concern about the growing rate and sophistication of broadcast piracy.

“Not only does it present a serious threat to the funding of the television and film industries, it also threatens the funding of sports and entertainment rights holders. The prison sentences and record fines handed down in this case send a clear message to broadcast pirates – the industry is taking action and we will use the full extent of the law to see offenders brought to justice.”

Cameron Andrews, Senior Legal Counsel – Anti Piracy, of beIN MEDIA GROUP said, “This legal case is really significant in the fight against illegal TV pirates. TV pirates like ATN package hundreds, often thousands of pirated television channels from around the world, and then make big money by selling subscriptions. These businesses are parasites, making huge profits off the back of stolen content. The damages and prison sentences ordered by the Swedish court reflect the serious harm that piracy on this scale causes. Enforcement actions like this ruling against ATN are an important part of the legitimate industry’s efforts to tackle this piracy, and sends a strong message that piracy on this scale will not be tolerated.”

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