ISP Books Partial Victory Against RIAA in Piracy Lawsuit

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The piracy liability case between the RIAA and Internet provider Grande Communications continues, but only based on the contributory infringement claim. Texas District Court Judge Lee Yeakel fully adopts the earlier recommendation from the Magistrate Judge, despite objections from both the RIAA and Grande.

Last year several major record labels, represented by the RIAA, filed a lawsuit against ISP Grande Communications accusing it of turning a blind eye to pirating subscribers.

According to the RIAA, the Internet provider knew that some of its subscribers were frequently distributing copyrighted material, but failed to take any meaningful action in response.

Grande refuted the accusations and filed a motion to dismiss the case. Among other things, the ISP argued that it didn’t disconnect users based on mere allegations, doubting the accuracy of piracy tracking company Rightscorp.

Last week Texas District Court Judge Lee Yeakel decided to dismiss the vicarious copyright infringement claim against Grande. The request to dismiss the contributory copyright infringement claim was denied, however.

With this decision, Judge Yeakel follows the recommendation of Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin. This, despite detailed objections from both the RIAA and the Internet provider.

The RIAA contested the recommendation by arguing that Grande can be held liable for vicarious infringement, as they have a direct financial interest in keeping pirating subscribers on board.

“[C]ase law is clear that direct financial benefit exists where the availability of the infringing material acts as a draw. Grande’s refusal to police its system speaks to the right and ability to control element of vicarious infringement,” the RIAA wrote.

In addition, the RIAA protested the recommended dismissal of the claims against Grande’s management company Patriot Media Consulting, arguing that it played a central role in formulating infringement related policies.

Judge Yeakel was not convinced, however, and concluded that the vicarious infringement claim should be dismissed, as are all copyright infringement claims against Patriot Media Consulting.

For its part, the ISP contested the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that Rightscorp’s takedown notices may serve as evidence for contributory infringement, noting that they are nothing more than allegations.

“[P]laintiffs do not allege that Grande was willfully blind to any actual evidence of infringement, only to unverifiable allegations of copyright infringement.”

In addition, the Internet provider also stressed that the RIAA sued the company solely on the premise that it failed to police its customers, not because it promoted or encouraged copyright infringement.

Again, Judge Yeakel waived the objections and sided with the recommendation from the Magistrate Judge. As such, the motion to dismiss the contributory infringement claim is denied.

This means that the case between the RIAA and Grande Communication is still heading to trial, albeit on the contributory copyright infringement claim alone.

More details on the report and recommendation are available in our earlier article. US District Court Judge Yeakel’s order is available here (pdf).

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