Music Companies Sue ISP Bright House for Failing to Disconnect Pirates

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A group of major music companies including Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros, has sued Internet provider Bright House Networks for failing to disconnect repeat infringers. The ISP, which was acquired by Charter three years ago, knowingly profited from the massive volumes of copyright infringement committed by its users, the companies state. With thousands of tracks as evidence, the potential damages exceed a billion dollars.

For roughly two decades, copyright holders have been sending takedown notices to ISPs to alert them that their subscribers are sharing copyrighted material.

Under US law, providers must terminate the accounts of repeat infringers “in appropriate circumstances” and increasingly they are being held to this standard.

Several major music industry companies including Artista Records, Capitol Records, Polygram Publishing, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music, and Warner Bros Records, have filed lawsuits against a variety of Internet providers.

With help from the RIAA, the companies targeted Cox Communications and Grande Communications, hoping to recoup damages for their role in the pirating activities of their subscribers.

The overall theme of these lawsuits is the same. The music companies accuse the ISPs of turning a blind eye to pirating subscribers. This is also made clear in a new complaint that was just filed against Bright House Networks at a federal court in Florida.

A few years ago Bright House was the sixth largest ISP in the US. In 2016, the company was acquired by Charter, and its customers were subsequently moved to the Spectrum brand. However, that hasn’t stopped the music companies from suing the company over its past practices.

In the complaint, the music companies argue that the ISP knowingly contributed to and profited from the copyright infringing actions of its subscribers. As such, the company should be held liable for this activity, they state.

“Indeed, for years, Bright House deliberately refused to take reasonable measures to curb customers from using its Internet services to infringe on others’ copyrights, including Plaintiffs’ copyrights—even after Bright House became aware of particular customers engaging in specific, repeated acts of infringement.

“Rather than working with Plaintiffs to curb this massive infringement, Bright House did nothing, choosing to prioritize its own profits over its legal obligations,” the complaint adds.

The lawsuit covers Bright House’s activities between 2013 and 2016, before the Charter acquisition. The music companies write that, despite sending more than a hundred thousand infringement notices, the ISP knowingly allowed specifically identified repeat infringers to keep using its service. 

In reality, Bright House operated its service as an attractive tool and safe haven for infringement,” the complaint reads.

The more than 60 music publisher plaintiffs list several examples of Bright House customers who were allowed to continue despite dozens, sometimes even hundreds of copyright infringement notices.

Some examples

“During an 827-day period, Bright House subscriber with IP address 75.114.183.231 was identified in 340 infringement notices, sent on at least 232 separate days,” the complaint reads. 

“These examples and countless others amply illustrate that, rather than terminating repeat infringers—and losing subscription revenues—Bright House simply looked the other way.”

The allegations are very similar to the other “repeat infringer” lawsuits we have seen in the past. As in the other cases, the ISP is accused of both contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. 

The music companies claim substantial losses for which they want to be compensated. They request actual damages or statutory damages of $150,000 per work. With more than 7,000 tracks as evidence, a list that may grow even longer, the potential damages are over $1 billion. 

A copy of the complaint, filed at The United States District Court Middle District of Florida in Tampa is available here (pdf).

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