WOW! is being sued by a group of smaller movie companies, including Millennium Media and Voltage Pictures.
The filmmakers accuse the ISP of failing to terminate the accounts of subscribers who were repeatedly flagged for sharing copyrighted material. They want to hold WOW! liable for these pirating activities, which could lead to millions of dollars in damages.
The ISP challenged the claims and filed a motion to dismiss the case. Among other things, it argued that an IP address is not sufficient to prove that subscribers downloaded or shared any infringing material. The filmmakers opposed this motion, which has yet to be decided on by the Colorado federal court.
Filmmakers Want Subscriber Details
In the meantime, another issue has raised its head. Both sides are gathering evidence to prepare for the case moving forward. As part of that process, the filmmakers have demanded the personal details of roughly 14,000 subscribers whose WOW! accounts were allegedly used to pirate content.
WOW! objected to this request, arguing that the names and addresses of its subscribers are irrelevant to the core question of whether it reasonably implemented a repeat infringer policy. The filmmakers disagreed, noting that the information can be cross-checked to determine whether the ISP notified its subscribers and terminated accounts in response to infringement notices.
After hearing both sides, the Court eventually came up with a compromise. The filmmakers offered to reduce the targeted IP-addresses to the 375 top pirating unique IP addresses. The Court saw this as a reasonable request, especially considering the damages at stake.
The Court said that objections from subscribers would be dealt with at a later stage. That time has come. Over the past several months, 168 subscribers filed objections and the filmmakers and WOW! disagree on how these should be handled.
The subscriber’s arguments are not available to the public, but the filmmakers suggest that aside from two subscribers who passed away, they boil down to straightforward denials.
The filmmakers are not convinced by the objections. They want WOW! to hand over the data nonetheless, as these will allow them to check whether the ‘repeat’ notices were sent to the same subscribers each time.
“[T]he subscriber names are relevant because they will show whether the IP address was assigned to the same subscriber during the duration of the notices,” the filmmakers informed the Court.
Links to YTS and Reddit Users?
The filmmakers also want to check if the subscribers had accounts with the popular torrent site YTS. The companies previously obtained data from the YTS user database as part of a settlement with the torrent site. Since then, this information has been used as evidence in several lawsuits.
On top of that, the movie companies argue that they may be able to link the publicly available data of two Reddit users. These anonymous Redditors claimed to use WOW!’s service to pirate content.
“Moreover, the subscriber names are relevant because Plaintiffs can compare the subscriber names to the email addresses of the users that registered for accounts with the piracy website YTS or to those that have boasted on social media how Defendant allows them to pirate content without any problems.”
If the filmmakers find any links to YTS or the two Reddit users, they may argue that the subscribers in question are deliberate and repeat infringers.
WOW! Can Help without Exposing Subscribers
WOW! doesn’t agree with the filmmakers’ reasoning. The ISP believes that it’s not necessary to share the personal details of subscribers, as there are alternative means available.
For example, the Internet provider says that it can check its own systems to establish whether a particular IP address was assigned to one subscriber or multiple subscribers over time.
Instead of handing over the names and contact information, WOW! can simply share the associated account number, which would suffice. The ISP can also help to determine whether any of the objecting subscribers were YTS users, by cross-referencing data on their end without exposing their personal information.
No Signs of YTS and Reddit Users
Thus far there are no signs of YTS users. The filmmakers previously shared an exhibit with nine IP-addresses and emails of YTS users, but none of these matched the objecting subscribers.
“None of those IP addresses corresponds to an Objector, and Plaintiffs do not suggest otherwise,” WOW! writes.
“Plaintiffs could obtain information concerning the alleged YTS users without involving Objectors or other third parties, for example by serving discovery on WOW regarding whether WOW’s subscriber records include any of the nine email addresses referenced in Plaintiffs’ exhibit.”
Similarly, the ISP argues that there’s no public information that suggests that the two Redditors are among the objecting subscribers.
“There is no reason to believe these two users are among the Objectors. In fact, from the objections the Court has received, it is apparent that none of Objectors’ names have any passing resemblance or connection to ‘Servalpur’ or ‘rickselest’.”
In addition to the arguments discussed above, the parties also disagree on the type of notice that’s required before any data is handed over.
After hearing all parties involved, the Court now has to decide how to move forward. Does WOW have to hand over all data, or are objections warranted?
A copy of the filmmakers’ motion to compel is available here (pdf) and WOW!’s objections can be found here (pdf) and here (pdf)