In 2017, TVAddons founder Adam Lackman found himself on the receiving end of a campaign by Canadian telecom and media giants aimed not just at shutting down his company, but making a painful example of him personally. Five years and a massive financial settlement later, Lackman is trying to both make amends—and turn the page.
TVAddons hosted unofficial apps (referred to as “addons”) for the open-source media player software Kodi. While many of the user-built addons were innocuous, others engaged in blatant copyright infringement. The site’s failure to police infringing addons quickly drew the attention of Canada’s largest media and telecom giants: Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron, and Rogers.
As part of Lackman’s recent $25 million CAD ($19.2 Million USD) settlement with the industry, he acknowledged his role in the “development, hosting, distribution or promotion of Kodi add-ons that provide users with unauthorized access” to plaintiffs’ TV shows, in violation of the Canadian Copyright Act. The settlement also prohibited Lackman from ever involving himself in any similar effort ever again.
“It was not necessarily what I hoped the outcome would be, but nonetheless it allowed me to move on,” Lackman told Motherboard in a phone interview.
“I had lost everything and was fighting out of principle over the years, but really the biggest loss was the time,” he said. “During the proceedings I couldn’t really start a new business…I could work, but I couldn’t build a company…say I built a hundred-million dollar business—they would have just forced me to give it up if I lost the lawsuit in the end.”
As Motherboard noted at the time, the industry’s legal tactics were highly controversial. Primarily because they leveraged an Anton Piller order—an extraordinary procedural remedy under Canadian law allowing industry representatives to access Lackman’s home without law enforcement presence and without prior notice.
A 16-hour search of Lackman’s apartment was conducted on June 12, 2017, at which point numerous possessions were seized by entertainment industry lawyers overseen by a court-appointed supervisor. That was followed by a nine-hour "interrogation," as Lackman's lawyer put it, that would prove to be just the beginning of a prolonged and confusing legal quagmire.
“Any party in a lawsuit wants to do whatever they can to win the lawsuit,” Lackman said of the tactics used by industry. “I don’t necessarily hold a grudge toward the companies because they want to win, and were doing what they had to do to win.”
Using the laptop and login information obtained from the search, the entertainment and telecom industry was able to shut down the TVAddons website and lock Lackman out of his own 100,000-follower Twitter account. Complicating things further was an additional lawsuit filed by Dish Network in the U.S. that was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2018.
While TVAddons has seen a few brief comebacks in the years since—boasting over 14 million active users per month at one point in 2018—the consent judgment and settlement with the industry took the website offline permanently.
“When my website was taken down the community really suffered a blow and it never really rebuilt itself,” Lackman said. “There are some remnants of the community on sites like Reddit and stuff like that, but it never really rebuilt itself to what it was.”
While Kodi was developed as a legal and innovative way to stream various sources of video online, its open-source nature also made it a useful way to watch copyrighted video. Seizing on the opportunity, pirates were quick to sell “fully loaded” Kodi boxes decked out with apps specifically designed to illegally stream video from copyrighted sources.
In 2016, Rogers, Bell, Videotron and TVA sued five sellers of fully loaded Kodi boxes, obtaining a court order banning them from selling the devices. Between a natural shift to piracy alternatives and the entertainment industry’s relentless legal assault, there’s not much of a Kodi-based streaming community left for Lackman to return to.
“Regardless of whether I won or lost I wouldn’t have been involved in Kodi,” Lackman said. “Even if I won the lawsuit and I was awarded $25 million I would be nowhere near Kodi again. This whole thing left a very sour taste in my mouth.”
While piracy on such services poses an obvious financial threat to copyright holders, such platforms also pose a legal innovative threat to corporate power, a nuance often lost under the blunt force approach that is most modern copyright enforcement in the U.S and Canada.
“The sledgehammer approach that was used raises concerns for anyone who pushes the envelope with innovative sites and technologies,” Canadian professor Michael Geist told Motherboard shortly after the industry raid.
Between numerous settlements and court costs, Lackman faces some significant hurdles in the quest to return to normalcy: namely, the $25 million judgment against him that he is, in theory, supposed to pay.
“I can’t get into too much detail but I hope to be able to,” he said when asked about paying the steep financial costs. “I'm working on a new business, and I hope that we'll be able to square off with them and clear this debt in the reasonable future.”
Lackman wasn’t willing to disclose the precise nature of his new business plans, but did make it clear that any new ventures will focus less on entertaining society and more on improving it.
“I’ll definitely tread much more carefully in the future when it comes to anything that involves user-generated content, Lackman said. “You get too close to the fire, you’re going to get burned.”