Quebecor Media Inc. has won a court battle against rival Bell TV over 10-year-old allegations that the latter failed to protect its satellite television signal against piracy in Quebec.
The Quebec Superior Court has ordered Bell TV to pay more than $1-million in damages and costs to Quebecor Media units Vidéotron Ltd. and TVA Group Inc. after ruling that Bell TV failed 10 years ago to put in place measures to prevent aspects of the illegal decoding of its satellite signals despite its knowledge of the activities and its ability to put a stop to them.
Vidéotron is Quebecor Media’s cable television provider and TVA is its private television network. Bell TV is a unit of Bell Canada, which in turn is part of BCE Inc.
The amount to be paid is far below the more than $300-million Vidéotron and TVA were seeking in the legal challenge, which was launched seven years ago.
In its suit, Montreal-based Quebecor Media alleged that Bell TV – then known as Bell ExpressVu – was not doing enough to combat the pirating of its signals.
But Mirko Bibic, executive vice-president and chief legal and regulatory counsel to BCE, said in an interview that the judgment found Bell ExpressVu could have acted earlier for only one form of the piracy but moved appropriately on others such as decoders.
He also pointed out that the decision refers to piracy issues from a decade ago and that “piracy back then was a broad problem faced by satellite TV providers and we were impacted more than anyone else.”
“We are glad to see the Superior Court condemn Bell for resorting to illegal means that weaken its competitors and for having failed to meet its obligations to protect rather than undermine the integrity of the Quebec and Canadian broadcasting sector,” Quebecor Media president and chief executive officer Pierre-Karl Péladeau said in a news release Tuesday.
Quebecor Media first raised its concerns with the federal broadcast regulator in late 2002. The pirating was done by consumers who used smart cards or decoders obtained on the black market to steal satellite signals without paying a subscription fee.
Bell ExpressVu and Quebecor Media were locked in a bitter battle for market share in Quebec at the time.
Countering Quebecor Media’s allegations in 2002, BCE officials claimed that its rival had its own problem stamping out piracy of its services.
Quebecor Media also attacked BCE subsidiary Bell Media on Tuesday for what it characterized as monopolistic behaviour, calling on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to turn down Bell Media’s takeover of local radio and pay-TV provider Astral Media.
The deal would give Bell eight of the 10 most popular French-language specialized and pay channels, as well as 67 per cent of the audience and 41 per cent of advertising revenues in this market, according to Quebecor Media.
Bell would also own 117 radio stations across Canada, it added.
“It is essential for anyone concerned with a healthy and competitive TV industry to take a look at these judgments and oppose Bell’s takeover of Astral,” said Mr. Péladeau.
Mr. Bibic said Quebecor Media loses no opportunity to slam the Astral deal, including a reference to it in a news release about a piracy issue 10 years ago.
“They’re dominant position in the Quebec media marketplace will erode now that Bell is in the French-language media. They’re going to get a competitive run for their money over their viewers.”