July 4, 2018 / 4:36 PM / 17 days ago

Arabic internet TV firm fined $24 million for sports rights piracy

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish court has ordered a bankrupt Arabic internet TV company to pay 210 million Swedish crowns ($24 million) in damages for distributing content including English Premier League soccer without permission.

The Stockholm district court ordered the Sweden-based Advanced TV Network (ATN), which distributes Arabic-language content over the internet, to pay 194.8 million crowns in damages to Qatar’s beIN Sports and 14.6 million crowns to Albanian TV group DigitAlb.

“It is, according to the court’s opinion, shown beyond reasonable doubt that ATN at no time ... had the rights to broadcast the beIN channels in question,” the court said in a verdict dated June 29 and seen by Reuters.

The Stockholm court also sentenced ATN owner Hamid al-Hamid, 58, to two and a half years in prison, while his son Ahmed and another business associate were sentenced to one year each. All three were found guilty of charges including misuse of decoding information and copyright violations.

Hamid al-Hamid’s lawyer Johan Nilsson told Reuters that he was working with Ahmed al-Hamid’s lawyer and that they planned to appeal the verdict in its entirety.

ATN declared bankruptcy in September 2016, according to the court document. It argued in court that it had distributed the content with the necessary agreements from the content owners, according to the document.

One of the prosecutors in the case, Anneli Tirud Wallin, told Reuters it was her understanding that damages could be extracted from assets belonging ATN or its owners.

Lawyer Jan Gruvstad, who is handling ATN’s bankruptcy, told Reuters he could not immediately comment on what ATN was worth or on how soon the bankruptcy procedure would be completed.

Nordic Content Protection, an anti-piracy industry group for Nordic broadcasters which originally filed the case against ATN in 2016, welcomed what it said was a landmark ruling.

“The prison sentences and record fines handed down in this case send a clear message to broadcast pirates,” the group’s chief executive Anders Braf said in a statement.

World soccer governing body FIFA, European soccer body UEFA and Formula One are investigating separate alleged illegal broadcasts of content belonging to beIN, a major global sports broadcaster operating in 33 countries.

Reporting by Esha Vaish and Daniel Dickson; additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mark Potter

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