Comcast has run out of patience with the avalanche of BitTorrent lawsuits in the United States. The ISP is now refusing to comply with court-ordered subpoenas, arguing that they are intended to “shake down” subscribers by coercing them to pay settlements. Copyright holders have responded furiously to Comcast’s new stance, claiming that the ISP is denying copyright holders the opportunity to protect their works.
United States citizens who download and share copyrighted files through BitTorrent risk being monitored and in some cases subjected to legal action.
In recent years more than a quarter million alleged BitTorrent users have been sued in federal courts. Most of the lawsuits are initiated by adult entertainment companies, but mainstream movie studios and book publisher John Wiley and Sons have also joined in.
These copyright holders request a subpoena from the court to order ISPs to identify the alleged BitTorrent users through an IP-address. They then contact the account holder with a request to settle the case in return for a sum of money.
Initially Comcast complied with these subpoenas, but an ongoing battle in the Illinois District Court shows that the company changed its tune recently.
Instead of handing over subscriber info, Comcast asked the court to quash the subpoenas. Among other things, the ISP argued that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over all defendants, because many don’t live in the district in which they are being sued. The company also argues that the copyright holders have no grounds to join this many defendants in one lawsuit.
The real kicker, however, comes with the third argument. Here, Comcast accuses the copyright holders of a copyright shakedown, exploiting the court to coerce defendants into paying settlements.
“Plaintiffs should not be allowed to profit from unfair litigation tactics whereby they use the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain Doe defendants’ personal information and coerce ‘settlements’ from them,” Comcast’s lawyers write.
“It is evident in these cases – and the multitude of cases filed by plaintiffs and other pornographers represented by their counsel – that plaintiffs have no interest in actually litigating their claims against the Doe defendants, but simply seek to use the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the Doe defendants.”
Comcast cites several previous cases to back up their claims and points out that federal rules require courts to deny discovery “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.”
The attorney for adult publisher AF HOLDINGS is furious at Comcast’s refusal to comply. He asks the court to disregard the ISP’s arguments entirely, and accuses Comcast of denying copyright holders the opportunity to protect their works.
“Comcast’s delay in objecting to the Plaintiffs’ subpoenas is part of a wider campaign to deny and delay the Plaintiffs’, and other similar copyright holders’, ability to protect their copyrighted works. Comcast routinely objects to subpoenas issued to it by producers of adult content,” AF HOLDINGS’writes.
“Even after courts regularly order Comcast to comply with the subpoenas, Comcast fights tooth and nail to resist complying.”
The case is now in the hands of Judge Gary Feinerman, who has to decide whether Comcast has to hand over the subscriber data after all, or whether the subpoenas should be destroyed.
Whatever the outcome, Comcast’s protest is part of a growing trend in which Internet providers object to handing over subscriber data in mass-BitTorrent cases. Previously, Verizon did the same, successfully arguing that it has an obligation to protect the privacy of its customers.