Bell Canada's logo.
MONTREAL - Quebecor won a court victory Monday against Bell Canada, whose subsidiary ExpressVu - now Bell TV - failed to act against piracy of its signal in the early 2000s.
Bell TV is ordered to pay more than $1 million in damages and fees, plus interest to Videotron, a Quebec cable company owned by Quebecor, and to TVA Group, a broadcaster also owned by Quebecor.
Videotron was asking in its court action for $173 million in lost revenues stemming from piracy allowed by Bell.
According to Quebec Superior Court Justice Joel A. Silcoff the evidence is clear: Bell was well aware of an increase in piracy of its satellite television signal. In October 2001, a confidential memo described the phenomenon as a "growing problem."
"It cannot be disputed that Bell ExpressVu was well aware that this was happening and that damages were being caused as a direct and immediate consequence of its failure to adequately secure its signal," Silcoff wrote in his decision.
The piracy rate soared to a peak of 45% in July 2002.
"This apparent ignorance ... and failure to respond to the situation resulted in a dramatic and exponential increase of the piracy level in 2002, and subsequently from 2003 until early in 2005," Silcoff wrote.
Quebecor welcomed the judgment.
"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," said Pierre Karl Péladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor, Quebecor Media and Sun Media Corp.
"Unfortunately, we once again find that Bell is willing to use any means necessary to reach its ends and put more money in its pocket," Péladeau said. "It appears inconceivable that a company that benefited for decades from being a monopoly could have resorted to practices so detrimental to the rest of the broadcasting industry as to be condemned by law."
Bell TV refused to comment on the judgment.
Quebecor senior vice-president, corporate and institutional affairs Serge Sasseville said that Quebecor is considering appealing the amount of damages awarded by the judge.
"We are of the opinion that the experts we brought before the court have proven far more damage than what the judge has granted us," Sasseville said.
Quebecor also condemned the fact, outlined in Monday's judgment, that senior Bell managers knowingly communicated false data to the CRTC related to the piracy rate of its TV distribution system, while knowing full well the true extent of the problem.
"We must deplore such a lack of respect towards the laws and institutions that are supposed to protect our broadcasting system," Péladeau said. "We wish for the CRTC to look into this matter and to take all appropriate measures under the circumstances."