Freedom of Communication Under Attack: Software Repository TVAddons Shut Down

A very unfortunate thing has happened in the world of operating systems and software repositories in recent years: Censorship. From China banning VPNs (virtual private network providers aiming to give users back some level of privacy) to Google and Apple censoring communications software such as alternatives to Twitter that stand up for free speech regardless of the communications. The problem with censorship is it doesn't stop at child porn or white supremacist propaganda. Today censorship lists are commonly used in many countries- not just China and other places with authoritarian dictatorships. Lists are maintained by all major Canadian ISPs, mandated by the UK government, and other countries you may have thought of as modern and democratic. Sadly- the great firewall of China is not exclusive to China and hasn't been for a very long time now.

In this most recent issue to prop its ugly head a lawsuit against TVAddons has emerged. Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron, and Rogers are collectively suing this Kodi addon repository. TVAddons is merely a host for software no different than what exists for nearly every GNU/Linux distribution and modern operating system. About 1% of the software in TVAddons's repository may be usable as a tool for copy"right" infringement and the entertainment industry as a whole doesn't like that. Such software is readily available on the internet as well and the entertainment industry is looking to take out any entity that may be more respective of freedom of speech or sympathetic to liberal policies. Fortunately there is a piece of legislation in most countries including Canada (where this lawsuit is happening) to protect hosts and other intermediaries of communications. The law says basically that provided you take down infringing content upon notification by a copy"right" holder you can't be held liable for it. In the United state this piece of legislation falls under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Most 'piracy' software in these repositories isn't that different from a web browser. The programs themselves merely provide a friendly means of accessing content from third parties. A web browser is also a tool frequently used in the process of infringing. And in this particular case there were no DMCA notices even sent to the owners of the TVAddon's repository. Instead what these companies did was they took advantage and abused a dangerous legal procedure: The Anton Piller order. An Anton Piller order is a civil search warrant that grants plaintiffs no-notice permission to enter a defendant’s premises in order to secure and copy evidence to support their case. This order comes attached with many restrictions to ensure it isn't abused. Unfortunately the rights of TVAddons owner were blatantly violated. The plaintiffs took advantage of this order not to secure evidence, but to go in and destroy TVAddons business. The plaintiffs preceded to threaten TVAddons, holding the owner hostage, denying him a lawyer, and intimidating him into providing information on unrelated persons. This order was not used simply to secure evidence. In fact before such a order is issued a bond must be paid by the plaintiff. $50,000 was put down and when the plaintiff violated the order this money was forfeited. The plaintiff is now appealing this forfeiture. To appeal another $150,000 bond is being required.

Unfortunately in the mean time $100,000 plus in legal fees have already been incurred by the defendant. The plaintiff in this case clearly had no intent to pursue any sort of legitimate resolution to their complaint (no complaint/DMCA notice was ever even sent). What they have done (and is routine) is abused the system and overloaded a small business and its owner in legal costs while taking the opportunity to effectively destroy- or at least shut down the owners legitimate business. For more details on this case check out this article from Torrent Freak. Surprisingly the TVAddOns owner has managed to secure a legal team in relatively short order and mostly resurrect the site from a backup.

If you would like to help protect software repositories from censorship and send a clear message to those who would attack supporters of free speech and free software please consider making a contribution to the TVAddon legal defense fund. Those wishing to pay with a credit card can check out the fund raiser. Those who would prefer to donate more (pseudo) anonymously via Bitcoin can check out the site directly (I believe this may be a replacement domain name as the original got seized, and may or may not have been returned yet, per an order to do so).