Pirate must pay Dish $2.1 million for stealing signals

A federal judge has ordered a Texas resident to pay $2.1 million and forfeit several web addresses after finding that the man's company pirated Arabic channels from Dish Network's satellite service as part of an Internet-based television product.

The judgement was entered in late November against Yahya Alghafir, a Houston-area man who operated a service called Super Arab IPTV.

According to a court order reviewed by Fierce Video, Alghafir was part of a scheme involving a China-based hardware and services firm that saw the venture steal around three dozen Arabic-language channels from Dish's satellite service. The channels included Al Jazeera Mubasher, Al Jazeera Arabic, Capital Broadcasting Center (CBC) and MBC, which Dish had the exclusive rights to provide to American television viewers at the time of the purported signal theft.

The stolen signals were delivered over the Internet to people who purchased a Super Arab IPTV-compatible box and service, with those boxes going for as much as $200, according to Internet listings reviewed by Fierce Video. The boxes ran a variant of the Android TV operating system that allowed users to gain access to illegal streaming services, similar to devices known as a Superbox, which Fierce Video wrote about in September.

The boxes were primarily sold online through various websites under the control of Alghafir and others involved in the venture, though Fierce Video found listings for Super Arab IPTV devices on eBay and the Canadian version of Amazon's store.

Dish eventually caught on to the signal theft. With the help of encryption firm Nagra Kudelski and backed by the International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP), Dish brought a federal lawsuit in 2020 identifying Alghafir and the China-based firms as the culprits behind the Super Arab IPTV hardware and service.

In November, a judge overseeing the case issued an injunction against Alghafir and the China-based companies, ordering it to shut down the Super Arab IPTV service and stop providing hardware that enables television piracy. The defendants were ordered to pay $2.1 million in damages.

The judge also took the unusual step of ordering the defendants to transfer control of around a half-dozen web addresses, including superarabiptv.com, iptvarab.com and superarabiptv.net. The domain names were to be transferred to Dish, the order stated. None of the websites were online as of Wednesday, and some of them appeared to have expired prior to the court's order.

In a statement, a spokesperson for IBCAP said the case was yet another example of someone hijacking cable or satellite signals to enrich themselves through an illegal streaming television service. The case against Alghafir and the other defendants might never have resulted in a multi-million dollar judgement if the venture had simply complied with requests to stop pirating television channels that were sent before the lawsuit was filed, the spokesperson said.

"This case is yet another example of what happens when a local dealer ignores IBCAP cease and desist notices," Chris Kuelling, the executive director of IBCAP, said in a statement this week. "An award of more than $2 million against an individual residing in Texas reinforces our repeated message to dealers of pirate services — participating in copyright infringement by selling pirate services is not worth the risk. In this case, not only was the dealer ordered to pay, but the court also issued a broad injunction that will enable us to shut down the service in the U.S. as well as all dealers of the service. We will enforce this order against dealers of the Super Arab service, non-parties associated with Super Arab, and the transfer of domains critical to the operation of the service."

Dish did not issue a statement after its court victory, but a Dish executive in charge of the company's streaming efforts for international channels said they were pleased to see the issue resolved in Dish's favor.

"Piracy has a huge impact on our business, and our fight against piracy often feels like a never-ending war," Liz Riemersma, the vice president of international content at Dish's Sling TV, wrote on LinkedIn. "I’m happy to share another battle won; thanks to [IBCAP] and our Arabic business partners for continuing to fight the good fight!"

Dish has been particularly aggressive in going after signal pirates. Last year, the company filed a similar lawsuit against the operator of an IPTV service that it says illegally distributed signals of channels originating from India and Pakistan. The lawsuit, which is still pending, seeks more than $26 million in damages.

Law enforcement officials have also been cracking down on television pirates. In September 2021, a popular YouTube personality was arrested in Pennsylvania for operating a service that illegally retransmitted channels pulled from cable and satellite boxes. The YouTube blogger, Bill Omar Carrasquillo, later plead guilty to some charges in that case.