Cox Business Subscriber Doesn’t Want Identity Revealed in Piracy Lawsuit

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As part of the ongoing lawsuit with several record labels, ISP Cox Communications agreed to identify thousands of business subscribers accused of sharing pirated material. One of the affected businesses believes this goes too far, so has asked a Virginia federal court to shield its identity.

Last year a group of prominent record labels, all members of the RIAA, filed a lawsuit against ISP Cox Communications. 

The labels argue that Cox categorically failed to terminate repeat copyright infringers and that it substantially profited from this ongoing ‘piracy’ activity. All at the expense of the record labels and other rightsholders.

As part of the discovery phase, both parties requested relevant information from each other. The labels, for example, were interested in finding out the names and addresses of Cox business subscribers that received copyright infringement warnings. 

In addition to regular households, Cox also offers Internet connections to business clients and many of these – 2,793 to be precise – were flagged as pirates.

After some back and forth Cox and the record labels agreed on a stipulated court order, requiring the ISP to disclose this information. While the court signed off on this, not all affected subscribers are happy with this decision. One of them objected in court this week. 

The company in question appeared as “John Doe” and explained that it’s a  non-profit corporation that provides hospital and medical care facilities outside of Virginia. 

As is quite common today, the non-profit operates a secured network that’s only accessible to its employees. In addition, it offers public WiFi access to patients and visitors. The latter was provided by Cox in the relevant time period.

“Like other medical care providers, John Doe provides an unsecured, public
wireless network that can be accessed by patients and other visitors who agree to abide by John Doe’s terms of use for the Public WiFi network. Cox is the internet service provider for this Public WiFi network,” the company notes

It was this unsecured network that triggered the referenced copyright infringement notifications. This, despite the fact that all users had to agree to the terms of service, which specifically prohibited illegal downloading.

From the ToS

The health care provider doesn’t refute that visitors or patients may have used the network to share copyright-infringing content. However, it notes that there’s not much it can do to identify these infringers. Not then and not now.

The health care provider doesn’t track MAC addresses of people who connected to the network, and even if it did, that would only identify a device, not a person. 

Given this background, the “John Doe” company doesn’t see any reason why its details should be shared with the record labels. That won’t help to identify any copyright infringers. However, it does breach the health care provider’s privacy rights. 

“Thus, disclosure of John Doe’s subscriber information will not lead to the discovery of the individual(s) who are alleged by Plaintiffs to have engaged in copyright infringement through the misuse of John Doe’s network in violation of the access agreement,” the company informs the court.

“All disclosure will accomplish is a breach of John Doe’s privacy rights under the Cable Communications Privacy Act, 47 USC § 551, and the imposition of time and expense burdens on John Doe, all without furthering any claim or defense in this case.”

It is now up to the court to decide whether the details of the company can be handed over by Cox. Meanwhile, it remains unclear why the record labels are interested in this information at all, and how this will help their case.

A copy of John Doe’s objection to the disclosure is available here (pdf).


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