Major labels have for some time been excited by the prospect of being able to use the DMCA to get Internet Service Providers to boot users from the internet, and suing them if they failed. The most prominent victim of this strategy has been ISP Cox, who is now the subject of a bombardment of lawsuits from all the major labels, writes Mike Masnick.
Guest post by Mike Masnick of Techdirt
For years, we've noted that the major record labels have been drooling over the idea that the DMCA might allow them to force ISPs to kick people entirely off the internet based on mere accusations of piracy. This is problematic for all sorts of reasons (as you might imagine). However, the record labels feared testing this idea in court, because it might not turn out the way they wanted it to. However, as we covered on Techdirt, a few years back, music publisher BMG, with the assistance of copyright trolling operation Rights Corp. went after ISP Cox, claiming that it had failed to kick people off under the DMCA.
That case was an utter mess, not helped at all by the fact that it was handled by Judge Liam O'Grady, who flat out mocked the idea that the internet was important, and made it clear he didn't see any issue at all with banning people from the internet. Here's how he responded to an attempt by the EFF to file an amicus brief pointing out the problems with kicking people off the internet:
I read the brief. It adds absolutely nothing helpful at all. It is a combination of describing the horrors that one endures from losing the Internet for any length of time. Frankly, it sounded like my son complaining when I took his electronics away when he watched YouTube videos instead of doing homework. And it's completely hysterical.
The whole case was a complete mess -- and it was made worse by some bad choices by Cox, including not really following its own stated DMCA repeat infringer policy. O'Grady's ruling was bad, and unfortunately the appeals court upheld it. However, at least the Appeals Court made it more or less clear that they weren't saying every ISP had to kick people off the internet -- but rather that Cox lost its DMCA safe harbors by not following its own DMCA policy. While much attention was paid to the claim that Cox's policy amounted to a "13 strike" policy before you might lose access, the appeals court notes it's not the number of strikes that matters, so much as whether or not the company follows its own policy -- and Cox did not.
Of course, another part that came out during the trial is that Cox was getting so completely bombarded by Rights Corp takedown notices (which doubled as demands for money), that Cox felt it needed to put in place systems to deal with the spam, which included limiting how many notices it would accept each day. Between the ruling in the original BMG case, and the revelations about Cox's own practices, the RIAA clearly sensed blood in the water, and a chance to prove its point. And, thus, it has a massive lawsuit against Cox. It's basically all of the major labels using the earlier case as evidence of some grand conspiracy to profit off of piracy.
Cox is one of the largest Internet service providers (“ISPs”) in the country. It markets and sells high-speed Internet services to consumers nationwide. Through the provision of those services, however, Cox also has knowingly contributed to, and reaped substantial profits from, massive copyright infringement committed by thousands of its subscribers, causing great harm to Plaintiffs, their recording artists and songwriters, and others whose livelihoods depend upon the lawful acquisition of music. Cox’s contribution to its subscribers’ infringement is both willful and extensive, and renders Cox equally liable. Indeed, for years, Cox deliberately refused to take reasonable measures to curb its customers from using its Internet services to infringe on others’ copyrights—even once Cox became aware of particular customers engaging in specific, repeated acts of infringement. Plaintiffs’ representatives (as well as others) sent hundreds of thousands of statutory infringement notices to Cox, under penalty of perjury, advising Cox of its subscribers’ blatant and systematic use of Cox’s Internet service to illegally download, copy, and distribute Plaintiffs’ copyrighted music through BitTorrent and other online file-sharing services. Rather than working with Plaintiffs to curb this massive infringement, Cox unilaterally imposed an arbitrary cap on the number of infringement notices it would accept from copyright holders, thereby willfully blinding itself to any of its subscribers’ infringements that exceeded its “cap.”
Cox also claimed to have implemented a “thirteen-strike policy” before terminating service of repeat infringers but, in actuality, Cox never permanently terminated any subscribers. Instead, it lobbed “soft terminations” with virtually automatic reinstatement, or it simply did nothing at all. The reason for this is simple: rather than stop its subscribers’ unlawful activity, Cox prioritized its own profits over its legal obligations. Cox’s profits increased dramatically as a result of the massive infringement that it facilitated, yet Cox publicly told copyright holders that it needed to reduce the number of staff it had dedicated to anti-piracy for budget reasons.
Given the mess of how Cox handled DMCA notices and its repeat infringer policy, this case is going to be a tough one for it to fight off. But the actual stakes are huge. The RIAA wants to be able to kick people entirely off the internet based purely on accusations -- even if they're bullshit. We should be very concerned about it.
And to increase the level of concern: this new case has been assigned to... Judge Liam O'Grady. Needless to say we'll be watching it closely.