Four sat-TV players beam suit on dealers

TORONTO — Four Canadian TV and satellite industry players launched a C$100 million ($64 million) lawsuit Monday to try to stop satellite TV piracy in the Great White North.

Satellite TV company Bell ExpressVu, sister company and Canuck web CTV plus broadcasters Alliance Atlantis Communications and Astral Media are suing satellite TV dealers in Toronto, Ottawa, Ontario, Winnipeg and Brandon in Manitoba as well as Surrey, British Columbia, for damages. They say the dealers are selling satellite signal decryption equipment illegally.

“Signal piracy is theft, and we want to stop it,” Bell ExpressVu prexy Tim McGee said. “The law is clear, but obviously a number of these dealers continue to ignore it.”

The suit, filed in federal court, asks for the earnings and equipment of the alleged pirate dealers. They’re also seeking an injunction barring these dealers from selling equipment able to pick up both Canuck and U.S. satellite signals. The four say that satellite signal piracy has had a “severe” impact on their business, and each company has lost customers and revenue.

The Canadian Cable TV Assn. estimates there are 700,000 illegal dishes in Canada.

Previous ruling

“This is my second round,” Roy Levin, owner of Starlink in Winnipeg and a defendant in the lawsuit, told Daily Variety. Levin says he was served with a similar suit by now-defunct WIC Communications for $6.4 million in damages in 1999.

The suit was dropped after the court denied the injunction. Since then, however, a Supreme Court decision last spring ruled that satellite programming distributed in Canada must be done through ExpressVu or Star Choice.

A group of satellite distributors is challenging the decision under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is due to be heard early next year. If that challenge is carried, the current lawsuit will be a moot point, and satellite dealers say the companies are harassing them by launching more lawsuits before the first is settled.

“It’s a little silly for them to tie up the courts when they already have a couple of cases,” Levin said. “Why are they pursuing more before the first issue is resolved?”

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