Dish Network hits pirate IPTV operator with $31 million lawsuit

A ChitramTV set-top box, which Dish Network says is used to illegally distribute its television signals over the Internet. (Graphic by The Desk)

Dish Network has filed a federal lawsuit against an Internet-based streaming television service, accusing the service of illegally pirating its satellite channels.

In a complaint filed in Texas, Dish Network charged Chitram TV and its founder, Dinesh Vigneswaran, with violating the U.S. Copyright Act and other offenses in connection with its Canadian-based streaming TV service.

Dish Network accused Chitram TV of illegally obtaining its satellite TV signals, then re-distributing them over the Internet without permission.

As part of the service, Chitram TV offers its own streaming set-top boxes that are modified in order to receive the pirate service, which is sold to customers through Facebook, Craigslist and a network of resellers.

Chitram TV and its resellers claim to offer access to more than 500 live TV channels and over 10,000 movies, nearly all of which are pirated. The company charges customers between $70 and $150 to receive the service while giving Dish and various other copyright holders nothing in return, the satellite company said.

In 2014, Dish Network began sending Chitram TV copyright infringement notices and demands to cease-and-desist. By the following year, the satellite company had sent over 130 such notices, Dish said.

Chitram TV eventually stopped re-broadcasting Dish Network’s programming by late 2015, but two years later the company was once again illegally distributing Dish Network’s channels, the company alleged.

Late last year, an investigator working on behalf of Dish Network covertly arranged to become an American-based distributor of Chitram TV’s set-top boxes. After contacting a reseller online, the investigator was put in touch with Vigneswaran, who allegedly agreed to sell the investigator Chitram TV set-top boxes for $110 a piece as long as the investigator flipped them for $150 each.

Vigneswaran reportedly told the investigator that he was based in Canada but had a warehouse and 60 other resellers lined up in the United States.

The investigator took Vigneswaran up on his offer, agreeing to buy a handful of Chitram TV set-top boxes. After payment was sent through PayPal, the investigator obtained the boxes and found they illegally transmitted Dish Network’s signals, the satellite company claimed.

Dish Network again sent Chitram TV cease-and-desist demands, but those complaints went nowhere, the company said, triggering the lawsuit.

“The copyrighted programs were transmitted from computer servers controlled by Chitram to Service Users who accessed the programs using the Chitram Service,” Dish Network said in the complaint. “Chitram’s actions are willful, malicious, intentional, purposeful, and in disregard of and with indifference to the rights of Dish.”

Dish Network said it wanted $150,000 in statutory damages against the company for each willful infringement of its services. A Dish spokesperson said it had identified over 200 infringements, making a possible award for damages over $31 million if Chitram TV is found liable and if a judge or jury agrees with the figure.

Dish Network has been aggressive in its targeting of pirate services that illegally distribute its signals. Last December, the operator of one such service agreed to shut down his service and pay Dish Network more than $15 million after the company brought a similar lawsuit in federal court.