Several major studios, including Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, and Netflix, collectively filed suit against Dwayne Johnson after two illegal streaming rings were discovered, and the settlement the parties have reached will ultimately grant the studios more than $30 million in damages.
It’s not often that rival studios join forces. After all, when it comes to streaming services–among other things–each studio competes against the others. It’s estimated that there are more than 210 streaming services in the United States, but the five most popular, endearingly called the “Big Five,” are American streaming giants Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Max. Of the “Big Five” streamers, Netflix remains at the top of the charts, having become a $100 billion enterprise in just 20 years.
Rival Studios Join Forces Against a Common Threat
Nothing unites competitors–even if only temporarily–like a common threat or, in this case, a common enemy. And when that enemy is copyright infringement, you can bet that those competitors will come together and play nice, especially when millions of dollars of revenue are at stake.
In late 2021, three of the top studios in the U.S.–Disney+, Netflix, and Universal–discovered that copyrighted content was being pirated and featured illegally on two streaming sites operated by Dwayne Johnson. (Clearly, the man’s name is just an unfortunate coincidence and has no relation to, or affiliation with, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in any way.).
Initially, the three studios filed suit against Johnson for copyright infringement, alleging that Johnson was operating the streaming sites illegally. At least three additional studios eventually joined the suit as well–Warner Bros., Paramount, and Apple–claiming protected content was being pirated and used on the illegal streamers.
An Infringement of “Massive” Proportions
In the complaint filed in federal court, the alleged piracy is described as “massive.” Per court documents, Johnson allegedly operated two separate streaming services–AllAccessTV (AATV) and Quality Restreams. Documents state that the streamers “sold subscriptions to copyrighted movies and TV shows, including the Harry Potter and Jurassic Park films,” as well as episodes from the Comcast-owned NBC sitcom The Office, through hundreds and hundreds of live channels, as well as video-on-demand offerings.
The live channel feed allowed users to access major networks like Cinemax, NBC, and HBO. All of the pirated content was allegedly downloadable on subscribers’ devices as well.
Subscribers to Johnson’s AATV and Quality Restream services paid $25 per month for the base plan. Video-on-demand services were also available for an additional $15 per month. Court documents filed by the studios alleged that Johnson knew that his actions were illegal and mentioned Johnson’s “concerted efforts to conceal the unlawful enterprise.” Further, the studios claimed that Johnson attempted to hide his illegal operations by using a website that masqueraded as a site where users could buy VPN software.
According to court documents, Johnson allegedly generated annual revenue of approximately $3 million from AATV alone.
A Multi-Million-Dollar Agreement
Ultimately, the studios named as plaintiffs in the case reached an agreement with Johnson. According to documents filed in court earlier this year, the agreement resolved the suit with a multi-million-dollar settlement that came with an injunction against Johnson, barring him from operating any service–now or in the future–that grants access to pirated content. The settlement amount was $30 million–equal to 10 times what Johnson allegedly earned in annual revenue from his AATV site.
A multi-studio coalition headed by Disney, Netflix and Universal is awarded a $30 million settlement as part of a lawsuit against the owner of two major piracy websites.https://t.co/aOqlzxLAk0 pic.twitter.com/swGPGfPMFQ
— Comic Book Resources (@CBR) March 30, 2023
Under U.S. copyright law, if the infringement is found to be intentional, those responsible can be subject to $150,000 per work, case, movie, episode, etc., that is pirated.