On September 28, 2023, a federal trial court in Texas ruled that an advertisement on a restaurant’s social media accounts helped support an award of punitive damages against the restaurant. G&G Closed Circuit Events, LLC v. No Te Levantes Honey, LLC, Civ. No. 4:22-cv-00986-P, 2023 WL 6311521 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 28, 2023).
The case involved a prize fight in 2019 that was broadcast exclusively on a pay-per-view basis. A Texas restaurant, however, pirated the broadcast to show to its patrons, according to the plaintiff, which had obtained the exclusive rights to sublicense the right to exhibit the fight. Before the fight, the restaurant had also advertised on its social media accounts that it would be showing the fight. The plaintiff sued under federal Telecommunications Law (47 U.S.C. § 605), claiming that the restaurant had engaged in “unauthorized interception of satellite or cable transmissions.”
Although served, the defendant did not appear or respond to the suit, and the plaintiff moved for a default judgment, as well as for an award of statutory and punitive damages.
The court ruled for the plaintiff. With respect to damages, federal law permits damages between $1,000 and $10,000 for each violation. The court awarded the maximum of $10,000. The plaintiff also sought punitive damages, which the statute permits for “willful” violations to be between $10,000 and $100,000.” The court awarded $10,000 and found:
the willful nature of the violation is evident due to Defendants having advertised the broadcast in advance on social media. This was not a rogue employee with control of an HDMI cord, this was an intentional broadcast, advertised beforehand, for the purpose of increasing business at the Establishment.
2005 WL 2709572, at *3. The statute also permits an award of attorneys’ fees, which the court also granted. Finally, the court awarded postjudgment interest at a rate of 5.45%.
Although we have covered many cases involving problematic social media uses of others’ intellectual property under the federal copyright and trademark laws, this case demonstrates advertising on social media without the right to do so can be expensive under other laws as well.