A number of Chinese-language television broadcasters had filed suit in US courts against companies that are illegally streaming their content.

Usually Western broadcasters are complaining about rampant piracy in China, but this time the tables are turned.

Some US-based companies are promoting and selling a brand of streaming media boxes targeted at receiving large amounts of pirated TV programming from China. The same is happening with Russian and Turkish TV channels, among others, but so far no legal action has been taking against these.

The suit was filed Friday, March 13 in a federal court in California by TVB from Hong Kong, CCTV from mainland China, and Dish TV, an US satellite television provider that carries legitimately authorised programming from many countries. They accused several companies of promoting a brand of pirate TV player called TVPad.

CASBAA – the Association of the Asia-Pacific Pay-TV industry – has welcomed the move by the Chinese broadcasters “Proliferation of ‘black box’ streaming media players is a deadly problem for the Asian and international television industries,” said CASBAA’s chief policy officer, John Medeiros. “Governments are only beginning to take this problem seriously, and it is profoundly weakening their creative content producers.”

CASBAA CEO Christopher Slaughter noted that these devices are manufactured and sold by multinational criminal syndicates whose upstream arms intercept copyrighted TV channels and programmes and stream them via the Internet to millions of consumers around the world. Programmes and channels from all major TV broadcasters and producers are stolen in this way; both from international providers such as HBO, Fox, Discovery and BBC, as well as from indigenous Asian producers from places like India, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“Asian content industries are particularly hard-hit by unrestrained export of these boxes to North America, Europe and Australia,” said Slaughter. “There are substantial niche markets for Asian content in those places, where consumers have a high ability to pay. With pirates stealing those markets, Asian TV companies are not able to expand investment in new content to meet the needs of the digital era. Media flows in the other direction are also affected: international companies and pay-TV platforms doing business in Asia face a growing problem. ”

Medeiros noted that last year, India and Hong Kong both acted to raid “upload points” for pirate streaming media syndicates, where local programming was being streamed onto pirate networks. “Those were great actions,” he said, “and governments have to persevere. If the syndicates are allowed to operate with impunity, the television industry will be decimated.”