Liberia: Court Closes Three Television Networks

Andre Ayew celebrates his goal equalising the score against the United States at the World Cup. But the U.S. went on to score again in the final minutes of the game.

-- For illegally showing football games

The Commercial Court at the Temple of Justice on Tuesday, November 5, granted a request by the Consolidated Group (Plaintiff), compelling internet service providers (ISPs) including SATCOM, NANASAT and K3 Telecommunication (defendants), to block live streaming of the world's most popular sporting events to viewers in Liberia.

In the process, the Court also closed down K3 Telecommunication indefinitely.

This decision means that SATCOM, alongside NANASAT and K3 Telecommunication, both internet service providers, will be obliged to shut down the source of "illegal streams of football games pending an outcome of the Action of Damages for Wrong by Attachment" lawsuit filed against the trio by the Consolidated Group.

People who watch live football matches from the Spanish League (La Liga), the Bein Sport channels from Saudi Arabia, the SuperSport channels from South Africa, and the English Premier League on computer set-top boxes and other devices, will find the service blocked for now, due to the shutdown.

It is not clear whether the three affected service providers will abide by the court's decision and refrain from screening live football matches across the country, where many subscribers live.

In the lawsuit, Consolidated Group prayed the court to close down the defendants permanently from "illegally accessing and using the intellectual properties of these football governing bodies to the public."

The suit, filed by Taylor and Associates, demands that the three operators desist from screening live football matches based on screening content rightfully owned by Consolidated Group, an independent company which offers subscription management services to DSTV's subscribers and has spent millions of dollars on exclusive rights to show sporting events across the country.

Court officers shutting down the offices of NANASAT in Monrovia.

However, the defendants' action has caused the Consolidated Group to lose millions of dollars as commission; they are therefore demanding that the three affected companies be made to pay back U$5,125,971.98 in damages.

Consolidated Group also claimed in the lawsuit that they obtained the DSTV subscribers through a duly signed representative agreement by and between Multi-Choice Africa Limited and the Consolidated Group in Liberia.

"Therefore, Consolidated Group should be awarded the amount of US$2,625,971.98 in special damages, because the defendants' illegal action has been responsible for the drop of revenue they were to receive from 2015, up to and including 2018," the lawsuit demands.

It added, "The defendants should be made to settle an additional 25 percent of the total amount making up the special damages."

It further argues that the defendants should pay general damages in the amount of US$2 million for "frustration and injury the defendants meted against the plaintiff."

"They are to pay punitive damages in the amount of US$500,000 as deterrence to others who may contemplate engaging in a similar act of the piracy infringement and the violation of the intellectual rights of others," the lawsuit noted.

Consolidated Group further said that the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) issued them the rights to operate satellites and other equipment for transmitting signals as authorized by the LTA; but to the contrary, satellites and other equipment are imported to the country by unscrupulous individuals and institutions operating under the guise of being legitimate businesses in the country.

They also claimed that the defendants, not having the rights from any of the institutions, have since been involved in pirating these television signals and fees and infringing on broadcast rights by their unauthorized use of the high tower satellite dish kit to receive these football signals.

Consolidated Group argued that the defendants' action under the law is tantamount to an infringement of the rights exclusive to international football governing bodies that are licensed to transmit foot contents in this part of Sub Saharan Africa.

Consolidated Group also claimed they had notified NANASAT and SATCOM of their infringement. They (Consolidated) did not know that K3 Telecommunications was also a part of the piracy scheme until recently when it was discovered that K3 Telecommunication was involved in the screening of football content, which they are not licensed or authorized to broadcast.

"When we commissioned to operate our business as a provider of subscription management services of the DSTV subscription in Liberia, our commission earned from 'MultiChoice Africa' was high enough to cover our overhead, pay our taxes to the government, employ a sizable number of Liberians and undertake expansion activities," the lawsuit claims.

It added that with the illegal act by the defendants, their commission generation from DSTV has dropped drastically, of which they are asking the court to compel the defendants to pay the amount of U$5,125,971.98 in damages as a means of resuscitating their company's revenue generation strength.

Meanwhile, the defendants are yet to respond to the complaint.

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