Defending electronic piracy clients since 2003
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EXHIBITION OF TELEVISION PROGRAMING
Understand that, generally speaking, both signal providers and copyright owners do, under federal law, have a valid legal claim against you. Moreover, a "demand letter", such as you have received, is typically supported by sufficient professionally obtained evidence. (Many of the investigators employed by rights owners are retired detectives.)
These cases are currently being prosecuted by the Lonstein Law Office, and other law firms - all experienced attorneys who are well prepared to commence a civil prosecution against you. Unless they can be convinced they have no claim, or a settlement occurs, a “Summons and Complaint” (usually returnable in your local Federal District Court) will be forthcoming.
These civil prosecutions are usually conducted pursuant to Title 47 U.S. Code - a complex and little understood area of the law which offers drastic penalties against violators. Certainly, it will be very difficult for you to find a local lawyer who is familiar with it. I know of no one else on the defense side with my knowledge and experience as gained during the defense of hundreds of these cases.
Do not default (fail to respond to a Summons and therefor give the claimant the opportunity to magnify the claim against you in your absence). Moreover, judges don't look kindly upon those who ignore a Summons. The consequence of ignoring this will be a significant federal judgment against you.
It should be understood that as these are civil (rather than criminal) cases, the burden of proof is “preponderance of the evidence” or “which is the most likely” - not “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. Accordingly, civil cases are generally much easier to prosecute (and therefore harder to defend) than criminal cases.
A federal judgment will lead to seizure of your assets and perhaps financial ruination - and once a federal judgment issues, it is almost impossible to get it vacated or reduced, and (as the tortious act of "conversion" plays into this kind of claim), it is generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy (i.e., if you go through a bankruptcy proceeding, you may not be discharged as to the judgment). Moreover, this same tortious aspect of these cases make it unlikely that your corporation or LLC will protect you from personal liability.
It is very important to note that the signal provider (or rights owner) enjoys a unilateral (one-sided) right to both attorney fees and expenses such as court filing fees. That is: once a lawsuit commences, and if the claimant wins, the claimant has a legal right to make the defendant pay for claimant’s attorney. However, if defendant wins, defendant has no such right. (Doesn't sound fair, does it? However, it is true!)
I understand that it is disconcerting to be suddenly and unwillingly cast into a situation you do not understand. Moreover, the law relevant to these piracy proceedings is both complex and esoteric. In fact, many of my clients are actually other lawyers, who, having been called upon by one of their regular clients for help in this kind of situation, require my assistance to first understand the issues themselves - and also discover what a fair settlement should be.
Rights owners in unlawful commercial exhibition cases significantly overvalue their claim, demanding multiples of what the claim, if litigated, would prove to be worth. Demands of $10,000 to $15,000, and even more, are common. But, you should understand that these are fact sensitive cases, and factual circumstances weigh directly into the value of the case against you, and therefore, the value of a fair settlement. Having represented defendants in hundreds of these cases, I know how to weigh the factual circumstances in order to get you the best possible settlement. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to negotiate your own settlement without making admissions. In any event, I can typically get a much better settlement for you. Those of you who would like me to significantly improve the terms of their settlement should submit my Consultation and Settlement Retainer.