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Summary:

Numerous cricket fans that have streamed matches from pirate sites in the past are receiving a very interesting sales pitch from online cricked specialist Willow.tv these days. The offer: Become a paying Willow.tv subscriber – or open yourself up to a potential lawsuit for copyright infringement.

willow tv

Online cricket specialist Willow.tv has been sending emails to alleged sports pirates, threatening that the recipients are legally liable for copyright infringement unless they sign up for a paid one-year subscription of Willow.tv’s online video offering, or alternatively pay $200 per pirated match (hat tip to Deep Backward Point.) This kind of pre-lawsuit settlement offer was pioneered during the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) pursuit of P2P users, but it’s unprecedented in the area of live sports, and streaming video in general.

Willow.tv went after a number of illegal streaming sites in 2011, and was able to subpoena some of them to unmask the identities of their subscribers. The company is now using this information to send out emails that read, in part:

“(T)he evidence indicates that you purchased at least one of the illegal streams offered by at least one of these defendants in violation of law. (…) We would like to provide you a way out of the continued exposure to liability that comes with viewing cricket matches illegally through pirated websites.”

It then goes on to suggest that cricket fans can free themselves from any liability by becoming paid subscribers to Willow.tv for a monthly fee of $14.99. The company promises to send these new subscribers a release of liability after 12 months. Recipients who already receive Willow programming through DISH or DIRECTV are given an opportunity to settle the entire claim by simply providing a copy of their pay TV bill, and sports fans who aren’t interested in a Willow.tv subscription can alternatively opt to pay $200 per pirated match, or “$1000 for a package purchased from a pirate site.”

Willow.tv CEO Vijay Srinivasan confirmed the authenticity of these emails during a phone conversation Thursday, but declined to specify how many alleged pirates his company has been targeting. He called the initiative “a very fair and reasonable opportunity,” arguing that Willow.tv isn’t just asking for settlement money without providing anything in return.

Srinivasan also said that the email isn’t meant to accuse anyone of anything, but merely point out that their name appeared in a lawsuit against a pirate site. “We don’t have any presumption of guilt or anything like that,” he said. However, he argued that the email wouldn’t come as a surprise to many.

The idea of this kind of pre-lawsuit offer isn’t new to online piracy. The major music labels sent out thousands of settlement offers in their pursuit of P2P file sharers a few years ago, and porn studios and other rights holders have been cashing in by threatening hundreds of thousands of file sharers with lawsuits ever since.

However, there are no known cases of companies using similar tactics against users who merely stream infringing content, and the fact that most alleged pirates paid unlicensed sites for the content in question makes it even more unique. Still, Srinivasan believes Willow’s legal position is sound, and he’s willing to test it in court by going after end users: “Where it is appropriate, we will absolutely see the things to their conclusion,” he told me.

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  1. This is extortion – plain and simple.
    Willow: “Buy my overpriced crappy service or I will sue you”.
    Me: “Duck My Sick”

  2. That’s pure blackmail tactic used by Willow TV. They are trying to further extort money from innocent cricket fans who were duped by illegal sites (posing a genuine) before.
    I am sure they can be counter sued for their actions of harassment and blackmail.

  3. Legal or illegal, I watch Cricket all the time, online, for third of your price. $15/mo for Cricket is “extortion”. DEAR Willow TV, your scare tactics to sell over-priced products and make quick cash is going to back-fire and you will end-up losing more customers.

  4. Willow CEO Vijay Srinivasen trying to summon Kali Mata to go after the end-users. He is drowned in lost wages! Lost every ICC event bid to ESPN. IPL to Times Group and India Cricket home games to BCCI. Don’t blame every end-user for not watching a cricket match, even when a cricket team goes dominate. I wonder where Vijay’s team is spending time, oh guess it. In a Sunnyvale Temple?

  5. Willow’s prices are a joke. I was using their service since 2002 time ( wow a decade). The main issue is with BCCI. The BCCI bozos in India have no brains to market this subscription at cheaper price. This is a typical myopic business mentality you find in India. Rather than increasing the pie, they want the cream of a smaller bite. They will never succeed in stopping the illegal broadcasts. There are a million websites that keep doing it. When these illegal sites get into a lawsuit they close the shop and open a new website. Brand new beginning. So no point trying to fight multiple battles. They are not Apple. They cannot afford to spend the money on lawsuits.

    A simple mobile app with less than $10 subscription on all phones/tablets will help them to gain the market share. They had a feature that shows the video clippings based on scorecard.This feature was removed for no reason. They need to bring features that are used by subscribers. Only when they make the price affordable the subscriptions will increase. There is no reason to patronage illegal streaming sites when the official stream is good and affordable.

  6. testingwillow Monday, January 16, 2012

    Willow itself is misleading consumer. Their main page shows that one could watch the match on Android devices. But, it’s still not supported. In addition, they share your email with their advertiser without your consent.

  7. Does anyone know Willow.tv or Vijay Srinivasan’s address or phone#? I have requested their legal for any contact information but they don’t dare to disclose it. There is no way for anyone to take action against them! If he has the guts put the company’s address or phone online. he himself is a pirate.

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