Free TV forever? Cable giants take more dealers to court to crush it
Cable giants have ratcheted up their legal battle against Canadian dealers selling fully loaded Android boxes.
With added special software, the boxes allow customers to stream a huge selection of pirated content, including live sports, on their TVs — for free.
According to court documents, plaintiffs Bell Canada, Rogers and Quebec’s Videotron have added 11 defendants to their legal action launched in Federal Court.
The three cable companies initially named five retailers in the case and won a temporary injunction on June 1 to stop them from selling the loaded boxes until the matter is resolved.
The plaintiffs had been seeking a temporary injunction against all Android box dealers but the judge rejected that and allowed more defendants to be added to the case.
The 11 new defendants, added on June 20, had 14 days to comply with the injunction or challenge it.
Some small retailers say they don’t understand why they’ve been targeted.
Small-time Android box dealer Siva Mahadeva of Markham, Ont., was “shocked and surprised” when he received a notice that his business, Ohm Computers, was named as a defendant in the case.
“How come they are targeting us?” he says. “We don’t have money.”
Cable’s determined crackdown
The Android box business has become a scourge for cable giants because retailers often market them as a way to get “free TV” and axe cable bills for a one-time fee ranging from $ 40 to $ 250.
The devices are similar to Apple TV but their added software enables customers to stream a vast array of unauthorized movies and TV shows.
The plaintiffs’ statement of claim shows how box users can even access live TV such as Rogers’ Sportsnet — without a cable subscription.
In court documents, Bell, Rogers and Videotron say this is a case of “blatant copyright infringement” and that the box dealers have “induced and authorized” customers to watch illegal content.
“Enabling free and illegal access to copyrighted content with these boxes negatively impacts the entire Canadian content production industry,” Bell told CBC News in an email.
An online ad for a loaded Android box that promises the customer “free TV.” (Free TV Box)
The cable providers also argue that they’re unjustly losing customers to the Android box business.
But that’s not how Mahadeva sees it. He says his customers often purchased the box because they can’t afford cable.
“If Bell or Rogers, if they give a good price, a cheaper price, nobody would buy the boxes,” says Mahadeva.
He adds that since he got his legal notice, he no longer sells the devices. But Mahadeva wonders why the cable companies chose to go after his small business.
Why target the little guy?
He says he sold at most a few boxes a week and mainly focuses on computer sales at a store that is less than 700 square feet in size.
Mahadeva says some customers are dumbfounded when he reveals he can no longer sell the boxes. That’s because they’re still on offer at numerous other places, including large retailers.
CBC News found the loaded Android boxes advertised on BestBuy and Amazon websites, but without any mention of the added bonus of “free TV.” Neither company has been named in the case.
?Soufiane Al Timimi also says he’s bewildered why his company, TVBox Hero, is now a defendant in the case. The 30-year-old college student from Waterloo, Ont., says he created a business to market loaded Android boxes, but never got around to selling any.
“They know I have no money. They know I can’t fight it,” says Al Timimi. To fund his legal bills, he has launched a campaign on the do-it-yourself fundraising site, GoFundMe.
“Help us fight the good fight,” posted Al Timimi. He added that Rogers and Bell “are picking on the little guys like us.”
One of the original defendants, Vincent Wesley in Montreal, has also launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his legal fees.
“I’ve never believed that I was at any point a threat or causing much of a disturbance to incur such wrath from these huge cable companies,” says Wesley. He claims he sold the boxes as a sideline business.
Vincent Wesley still advertises Android boxes on his site, MTLFREETV. But he no longer sells devices loaded with software that enable customers to stream pirated content. (MTLFREETV)
The legal fight rolls on
Wesley is appealing the injunction that temporarily prohibits him from selling loaded Android boxes.
His lawyer, Constantin Kyritsis, argues the boxes are like “iPads, Apple TVs or computers,” which can be used for both legal and illegal purposes.
Indeed, customers can also use the Android box to stream legal content such as Netflix shows with a paid subscription.
“The vendor doesn’t control or authorize what users do, or what software providers enable users to do,” Kyritsis says.
A source close to the case told CBC News that the cable companies can’t target the people who make the software for the boxes so they’ve chosen to target the dealers.
“They can’t go after the real problem, which is the programmers because they’re all anonymous,” he says. “These people are probably in the mountains and stuff like that in Russia, in Switzerland.”
He also believes the case is actually working against the plaintiffs because it has made more people aware of the loaded Android boxes and what they offer.
“More people know about it and definitely more people are buying it,” he says.
He reports some dealers not named in the case have stripped their websites of any promises of “free TV” and are enjoying increased sales.
CBC | Business News