What’s Up with Willow TV: Cricket Fans Served Legal Notices for Streaming Pirated Video

by Devanshu Mehta

This is a developing story (FAQ, Feedback), and continues to be updated as new information is available. If you have received the legal notice below, I would love to talk with you about it. (email, Twitter, Facebook or the comments below) 

A large number of people are showing up on this blog searching for “willow tv” and “legal notices” and “offer of settlement”. Anyone know what’s up?

UPDATE:

Ok, here’s the deal. Popular cricket streaming service, Willow TV, is sending out legal notices (below) to (alleged) subscribers of (allegedly) illegal streams. The person is given a choice of either facing legal consequences or subscribing to Willow TV for $14.99 per month or paying $200/pirated-match.

UPDATE #2:

I am not a lawyer. I don’t play one on TV.

  1. Is this legitimate?
    Yes, it is. I’ve had a brief conversation with the Willow CEO on Twitter, instigated by David Mutton (full conversation).
  2. Is there precedent?
    Again, I’m not a lawyer. But this is similar to what the RIAA pulled off against people who (allegedly) downloaded pirated music. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a comprehensive history of how that played out. The settlement proposed here by Willow is significantly cheaper than the RIAA shenanigans. If you have questions about this sort of thing, EFF may be a good place to start. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) faced a similar problem to Willow TV, and sued streaming service providers.
  3. But this is different, right?
    Yes, this is different in many significant ways. The RIAA sent letters to people who distributed pirated music. Also, unlike UFC, Willow TV is going after people who are streaming video, not those serving it. Willow TV is explicitly giving fans a chance to become customers, or face legal action. The other difference is the offer of amnesty.
    Finally, while there is legal precedent regarding downloading pirated content, there doesn’t seem to be as much about streaming. Technically, there is a difference between the more ephemeral streaming user and the permanence of a download.
  4. How did Willow TV get email addresses?
    The Willow TV CEO, Mr. Srinivasan, has stated on Twitter that the information was obtained through subpoenas on service providers. Last year, Willow had sued a large number of defendants for illegal streaming of cricket in the United States. Mr. Srinivasan spoke with GigaOm last year about the piracy problem, and how his company is tackling it.

A few more points. As the Willow CEO, Mr. Srinivasan, pointed out on Twitter, I don’t think there’s much precedent regarding offering amnesty by turning pirates in to customers. It’s novel, and if both parties agree that a stream was pirated, I actually like that solution.

But that’s the problem– this approach starts with an assumption of guilt. If you receive this email, you have no recourse but to pay Willow or hire a lawyer. The cheaper option is an admission of guilt. Which means that even for the innocent, the better option may be to pay Willow. The reality of the legal system is that the party with deeper pockets wins by default, regardless of legal merit or actual guilt.

Which is why some on Twitter and in the comments below are using the words “extortion” and “blackmail” to describe this tactic. I’ve defended Willow from that language so far, but if more people (like in the comments on this post) claim to be innocent cricket fans caught in the cross-fire, this could get ugly.

UPDATE #3:

Also, here are a few recurring themes in the comments I’ve received from affected individuals on Twitter, in email and in the comments below:

  • Willow’s email looks illegitimate, partly because there is no postal address or phone number which seems like a reasonable thing to expect in a legal notice.
  • There is no legal guarantee of amnesty if an individual chooses to pay to become a customer. In fact, some worry that it could constitute an admission of guilt.
  • The email does not state which illegal services the individual subscribed to. In fact, there is no specific information about the violation, so the email looks more like extortion than an actual legal notice.
  • Some pirated streaming service represented themselves as the copyright holder. Users of that service had no idea that Willow held the rights to the broadcast.
  • Some individuals claim hat the pirated stream didn’t even work, so there is no instance of an actual violation.
  • Some individuals are not in the United States, and may not be in violation of the law cited in the email.

Many readers have posted their experiences in the comments below. Thank you, and keep your responses coming either by email, twitter or the comments below.

UPDATE #4:
Here is a frequently asked questions document I am putting together. Please let me know if you have additional questions for that page– either questions for me, or to pose to Willow. Thanks.

UPDATE #5:
Many people have been asking me to act as an intermediary between them and Willow, or help in other ways. So far, I’ve been reporting on this as a news story, providing a single resource for all currently known information and a forum for affected parties to communicate. I have also gotten in touch with the Willow TV CEO over Twitter, and asked him or his lawyer to look at feedback in the comments. Beyond this, there is little I can do, especially since this is a legal matter in which I am neither a lawyer, nor an affected party.

UPDATE #6:
Willow TV CEO Mr. Srinivasan just sent me the link to an FAQ that they have put up on their site that addresses many questions people had in the comments below.

Here is the text of the notice:

Willow TV: Legal Notice and Offer of Settlement

Dear Xyz

This email is being sent to you from Willow TV International, Inc. (“Willow TV”), which owns the exclusive rights to distribute and stream cricket matches in the United States and Canada, as well as the rest of North America, including the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and the national cricket matches for Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa amongst other boards, for the 2010-2011 season (“Copyright Protected Matches”). Willow TV filed a Federal lawsuit against various website owners that we allege illegally sold pirated downloads and video streams of the Copyright Protected Matches. A copy of the abbreviated lawsuit filed in court in available here. Willow TV subpoenaed the records of these various websites and the evidence indicates that you purchased at least one of the illegal streams offered by at least one of these defendants in violation of law.

It is a violation of Willow TV’s copyright and the law to purchase or view the illegal stream whether it was knowing or unknowing. Under 17 U.S.C § 501 et seq., anyone who participates in the infringement of a copyright is liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 per infringement, and up to $150,000 if the infringement is willful.

Willow TV will fully pursue this lawsuit to the fullest extent of the law against those who operate businesses and illegally provide pirated cricket matches in violation of their rights; however, it has no interest in pursuing a lawsuit against the viewers and fans of cricket matches, so we would like to deal with the evidence that has been presented to us in the best way possible.

We would like to provide you a way out of the continued exposure to liability that comes with viewing cricket matches illegally through pirated websites.

Complete Release and Waiver of Liability Offer.

Willow TV will provide you with a onetime release of all claims and liability for any and all past illegal downloads or streaming views of cricket matches you may have purchased or viewed from any of the defendants listed in the attached lawsuit. The release will be provided on the condition that you commit to watching any of your future cricket matches legally through http://www.willow.tv for the next year. The authorized service is currently $14.99/month and allows you, the customer, to watch the live video streaming of all cricket content offered by Willow TV, on its website http://www.willow.tv (and on its channel on YouTube, and on smartphones, etc.) for a period of one year. Willow TV is the official license holder for various cricket boards worldwide for this period (including Cricket boards of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and others), and it is the only way to watch these matches legally in North America. After the 12 month period, on request, you will receive a release of all past claims and liability from Willow TV for any crickets matches you may have purchased or viewed in violation of Willow TV’s exclusive rights to distribute and stream those matches in North America.

If you wish to take advantage of this offer for a full release of liability please visit the website http://www.willow.tv, and purchase the monthly package of $14.99. (Or you can directly buy it by clicking here). Please use the same email id to which this email is sent, as your login id on willow.tv while making the purchase.

After one year of continued service, the release email will be sent to you on request to legal@willow.tv.

Alternatively, if you have subscribed to the Willow Cricket Channel on DISH Network or DIRECTV, you can email legal@willow.tv with a copy of your bill showing your active subscription, with your first and last name indicated clearly as the subscriber on file.

If you do not wish to commit to viewing cricket matches legally through Willow TV you may contact us and we will provide you with a settlement demand based on the number of your purchases and streaming views of cricket matches that were in violation of Willow TV’s rights ($200 per match or $1000 for a package purchased from a pirate site) and a release will be provided after final settlement, or simply do nothing and we will continue our investigation against you and we may be forced to name you as a defendant to the lawsuit. If you are named as a defendant we will pursue the full statutory damages provided in 17 U.S.C § 501 et seq.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Willow TV

Previously on DeepBackwardPoint.com:

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