Have there been cases where content owners pressed criminal charges against viewers of online streams?
First, a content owner cannot "press criminal charges" against a copyright infringer, at least not directly. The content owner would have to involve the the Department of Justice, and those guys don't just criminally prosecute someone because someone else asked. There has to be a significant public reason for doing so.
I am aware of several people being criminally prosecuted for *making available* copyrighted content on their own sites. In other words, hosting a site the purpose of which is to stream copyrighted content. A few of those people have gone to jail. But as far as I'm aware, no individual has ever been criminally prosecuted for just watching the content on someone else's site. In fact, there are quite a few legal scholars who believe watching the streamed content is not even illegal. It would be in the nature of listening to a band cover a song when they don't have a license to publicly perform it. The band might have committed copyright infringement, but the audience did not.
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Criminal charges have never been filed against a lone viewer for merely watching an unlicensed version of streamed content because doing so is very, very likely not a crime [or likely even a civil wrong]. So, no, no one has gone to jail.
Owners of bars and restaurants, however, who intercept pay-per-view events to show at their business are routinely sued in civil court and ordered to pay significant money damages. And operators of websites that make unlicensed copies of music, movies and sporting events available for streaming or download are also sued in civil court and, sometimes, arrested and charged with, among other offenses, criminal copyright infringement.
As for the company that owns the rights to the Ultimate Fighting Championship events suing viewers you can read an article via the first link below that identifies only ONE viewer who was sued -- and because he did not answer the complaint, he lost the case. We'll never know if he would've won. I think it likely he would have won. In any event, the article notes that the company ["Zuffa, LLC"] claims to have sued "hundreds" of viewers. That is likely untrue. The second link below is to a list of court rulings in cases brought by Zuffa -- and ALL, with the lone exception of the Pryce case, were all filed against businesses that intercepted a signal for a pay-per-view event. While many more such lawsuits were filed, and either settled or are still pending, the defendants in those cases also all appear to be businesses and their owners who are allegedly intercepting signals [visit the third link].
None of which is to condone viewing unlicensed streamed events via the internet. Doing so is wrong. Maybe not a legal wrong but a moral wrong. And maybe you will be sued.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
I am not aware of any such instances, but there's always a first time. That said, the standing to bring criminal charges in such an instance would lie with the attorney general and honestly, they probably have way bigger fish to fry.
Of course, don't let this give you a false sense of security. Content owners have sometimes made examples of individual infringers by filing and winning civil suits for damages, which could in some cases be worse in my opinion than going to jail ($150K statutory damages + attorneys' fees and costs, basically bankrupting you for a long time), so this is one area not to take lightly.
The answers appearing on this Website from Creative Vision Legal and Michael J. Thomas do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, and are presented only as information to members of the general public.
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