Zuffa Lawsuit Against JustinTV Not Actually Dead Yet

Dana White sermonizing at the podium at UFC 143. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.

The tricky thing about the legal world is that it is easy for people to make mistakes in overly hyping or inadequately summing up recent happenings. The scale and process of the legal world is not an easy one for the average person to quickly understand what is going on and what consequences result from this or that event.

Dana White dropping a press row bomb about Zuffa suing this person or that person does not usually mean immediate consequences due to the slow pace at which the legal system grinds its gears. When Zuffa, the company operating the UFC and Strikeforce, sues companies or people, the final touches and the fallout won't come until months or even years after the lawsuit is begun.

There is a ton of paper to be slogged through, argued over and dozens of mutually unsatisfactory compromises to be made over the course of those months or years. No sane person without a stake in these proceedings should go to all that work of untangling all of the paper trails, the contradictory stories and the interests of the parties involved.

Recently some fans may have assumed that Zuffa's recent lawsuit against JustinTV, the well-known live streaming content website, is completely dead in the water. I do not believe that this is what Judge Roger Hunt of the Nevada District Court actually accomplished with his recent decision to dismiss three of the twelve claims Zuffa brought against JustinTV.

I remind the reader that a finding of "Guilty" or "Not Guilty" is for criminal cases. The Zuffa/JustinTV litigation is a civil case, where the plaintiff (Zuffa) claims that the defendant (JustinTV) has damaged the plaintiff and seeks compensation for those damages. There is no finding of guilt and money is the usual form of compensation.

The decision by Judge Hunt does not say in any shape or form that Zuffa lost the entire case - thereby freeing JustinTV to continue operating as they were prior to the litigation. Hunt says at the very end that three of twelve claims Zuffa brought - "the ones dealing with unfair trade practices and violations of the Communications Act" - are to be dismissed. The other nine claims in the original complaint remain - although some in altered form - and those are the ones that deal with copyright and trademark infringement, which is the heavy stuff.

More after the jump in analysis and conclusions.

Be careful to note that I am not a lawyer privy to any party in this litigation, so I cannot say with certainty much of anything regarding motives or strategies.

However, the tenth, eleventh and twelfth causes of action Zuffa brought - and which Judge Hunt dismissed - seemed like an interesting legal strategy to extend in an unusual way a combination of established law that covers cable companies fighting against cable pirates and law that covers the broadcast of trademarked material to apply to the Zuffa/JustinTV situation.

Judge Hunt's decision states that the case that Zuffa used to argue one claim, (Dastar), is not applicable to this specific situation and other cases are more applicable (Sega). Hunt also noted that the application of Zuffa's proposed logic would allow content providers to go after services that provide cloud computing, live streaming and so on - which is way beyond the scope and intent of the actual law. In regards to the other two claims and the amendment of the trademark infringement, the decision essentially says that the existing law and case law is not set up in a way that Zuffa can legitimately point to this law or that case and say "This is a legally recognized injury and thus we can get damages from JustinTV as compensation."

After Hunt's decision spiking three of its claims, Zuffa still has plenty of time to amend the complaint to bring other claims that possibly have their legal ducks in a better row. The lawyers working for Zuffa have the time to change up their strategy some or press on with what they have now and begin in earnest the process of proving the claims/pressuring for settlement/whatever they want. JustinTV is presumably working with its lawyers to defend itself, negotiate settlement and all of the other legal stuff they have to do to deal with this complaint. There is much that has yet to happen over the coming months - which is a near-glacial pace that does not lend itself well to a 24/7/365 news cycle that MMA leans towards.

In short, Zuffa's case against JustinTV isn't over yet. To speculate on the eventual course of the proceedings without access to and familiarity with the documents, witnesses and facts both sides possess is dangerous territory that can lead to missteps or misstatements. The same goes for the ongoing litigation involving the TapOut and Hitman brands.

More on the UFC's recent actions against illegal streams and individual pirate stream consumers from Brent Brookhouse.

Again, this is not legal advice and nobody should rely on this as such. I am not anyone's lawyer and am merely explaining my own perspective on these legal events. Hopefully, they bolster understanding of the touchiness of these legal issues and ongoing litigation.

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