RCN Faces Another Multi-Million Dollar Piracy Lawsuit

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Internet provider RCN has yet another piracy liability lawsuit to deal with in the new year. Screen Media Ventures, one of the largest independent movie and TV-series distributors, claims the ISP can be held liable after subscribers downloaded and shared hundreds of the company's films. Screen Media Ventures previously tried to join a related suit but filed its own when a federal court denied the request.

justiceUnder U.S. copyright law, Internet providers must terminate the accounts of repeat copyright infringers “in appropriate circumstances.”

The law doesn’t specify what these circumstances are but in recent years federal courts have provided more context.

Cox and Grande Communications were both ordered to pay many millions of dollars in damages, for example. While these cases are under appeal, new ones are being filed at U.S. courts.

Internet provider RCN, which operates under the Astound brand, has been one of the most frequent targets.

The company first launched a proactive lawsuit against music rights group BMG in 2016, which ended in a settlement. In the years that followed, it was sued by several record labels, and later by film companies too.

Movie Company Lawsuit Expansion: Denied

The movie company lawsuit includes the makers of films such as The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, London Has Fallen, and Hellboy. This case is ongoing and a few weeks ago an amended complaint sought to add several new rightsholders to the case.

The amended complaint would’ve expanded the scope of the case by adding 14 additional plaintiffs and 343 new works. Since that would substantially increase the nature of the lawsuit, RCN asked the court to deny the request.

After reviewing the positions of both sides, New Jersey Magistrate Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni allowed some new parties to join, but not all. Specifically, the inclusion of independent movie distributor Screen Media Ventures was denied as that would expand the lawsuit with more than 320 new works.

“Plaintiffs’ proposed addition of Screen Media and its 320+ copyrighted works is an extensive broadening of the case RCN now faces, and the burden of engaging in the likely discovery, motion practice and trial associated with same would be unfairly prejudicial to RCN.

“As a result, Plaintiffs request to join Screen Media and its 320+ copyrighted works to this litigation is denied,” Judge Bongiovanni added.

Screen Media Ventures Objects

On the surface, the decision makes sense. On top of potentially adding hundreds of new films, allowing Screen Media Ventures to join would also introduce two additional piracy tracking systems to the suit. That would require substantially more work in terms of evidence vetting.

The plaintiffs disagreed. They opposed the denial pointing out that the final claims will focus on a much smaller number of works than the cited 320. Also, consolidating the claims in one case could actually save resources and offer more convenience than a separate lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs respectfully submit that the Order incorrectly assumes […] that the burdens are purely additive, whereas in fact litigating all of the issues together is vastly simpler than the alternative of having SMV file a separate complaint concerning the 320+ works,” the filmmakers write.

New Lawsuit Makes a Statement

To prove this point, Screen Media Ventures (SMV) went ahead and filed a new case that is pretty much identical to the one it previously tried to join, listing all 324 works.

new cpmplaint

In its complaint, SMV mentions that it has invested significant financial resources, time, and effort in marketing its movies. Ideally, those investments should be recouped through sales but online piracy gets in the way.

“Massive piracy of these motion pictures on the Internet via peer-to-peer networks by subscribers of Internet Service Providers (‘ISPs’) such as Defendants and the willful failure of the ISPs to deal with this issue despite clear notice of it have hindered this opportunity,” the new complaint reads.

Millions in Damages and Site Blocking

In theory, the 324 works could result in as much as $48,600,000 in statutory copyright infringement damages. However, SMV will likely focus on the works that were most frequently pirated, as previously indicated.

Nonetheless, with additional damages for DMCA violations on the line, the prospective damages could easily run in the millions of dollars.

The movie distributor also requests a broad injunction. Specifically, the company wants RCN to terminate the accounts of subscribers who receive more than three copyright infringement notices in 72 hours.

On top of that, an injunction should further require the provider to block access to “known” pirate sites, as identified by the US Trade Representative. Those include The Pirate Bay, 1337x, and TorrentGalaxy.


Whether this ‘parallel’ case will continue to trial has yet to be seen. However, it sends a clear signal to RCN and the court that denying SMV’s request to join the other lawsuit won’t necessarily save resources.

A copy of the complaint Screen Media Ventures against RCN Telecom Services, filed at the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, is available here (pdf)


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