Dish, Chinese Broadcasters Sue Streaming Service for Piracy

China's New Year Spring Festival Gala CCTV H

Dish is turning East to fight alleged piracy.

The satellite broadcaster filed suit Friday claiming copyright infringement by a group of Chinese companies that produces the set-top TV unit TVpad. The unit gives users access to hundreds of programs produced by China Central Television and Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts Limited, some of which Dish distributes in the U.S.

But they're streaming illegally, claim Dish and the Chinese broadcasters.

"[The defendants], acting in concert with a common purpose and scheme, have set up a pirate broadcasting network that, without permission and without compensation to Plaintiffs, brazenly captures entire CCTV and TVB television channels and video-on-demand programming from Asia and streams that programming over the Internet to United States users of the TVpad device, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," reads the complaint filed in California federal court.

The broadcasters have sued the companies they say are behind the TVpad network, Create New Technology, Shenzhen GreatVision Network Technology and Hua Yang International Technology. The TVpad device operates by tapping into a peer-to-peer network — "like Napster, Grokster, and BitTorrent," reads the complaint.

The difference is that it doesn’t provide file sharing, the complaint continues. The network instead provides video streaming, with users streaming CCTV and TVB content while retransmitting it to other viewers. This means the defendants include not just the companies that created the unit — the customers are also potentially liable for secondary copyright infringement.

The plaintiffs additionally sued the companies that distribute the unit in the United States, Club TVpad, Asha Media Group, E-Digital and newTVpad.

They claim none of the TVpad content was licensed by CCTV, TVB or Dish (which distributes 22 CCTV channels domestically via a bundle called the "Great Wall Package" and TVB channels in a variety of packages). "The CNT Group Defendants have built their entire business around blatant copyright infringement," reads the complaint.

It's not just Chinese content the TVpad network infringes, they claim. According to the complaint, TVpad provides illicit streaming of programs from HBO, BBC, CNN and others.

The companies behind TVpad are trying to avoid responsibility for potentially infringing content by blaming it on third parties, say the plaintiffs. “CNT maintains that its TVpad device is a neutral device like a personal computer,” reads the complaint, with apps viewers download and access to view content. TVpad's creators claim the apps, whether infringing or not, were developed without TVpad’s involvement.

Not so, claims Dish.

"Upon information and belief, the...App Defendants either do not exist or are controlled by the CNT Group Defendants, and the CNT Group Defendants are in fact deeply involved in, and are directly or indirectly responsible for, (a) the capturing of CCTV's and TVB's broadcasts in Asia and the infringing retransmission of that programming over the Internet to TVpad users in the United States; and (b) the development, maintenance, and dissemination of the Infringing TVpad Apps," reads the complaint.

Dish and the Chinese TV companies have named as defendants several individuals they claim developed the apps with CNT. But they argue the TVpad designers likely are behind the apps because they won’t disclose who developed them and because when one investigator they hired purchased a TVpad unit, several allegedly infringing apps were pre-downloaded on it.

What's more, they claim the service used their logos and other trademarks in TVpad advertisements. The complaint includes screenshots of the service’s website and Facebook page where CCTV and TVB trademarks appear.

They’ve sued for copyright infringement, secondary copyright infringement, trademark infringement and violations of California unfair business practices laws. Carla McCauley of Davis Wright Tremaine filed the complaint.

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to the three companies that developed TVpad and the distributors Asha, Club TVpad and newTVpad for comment. 

Twitter: @Asiegemundbroka