Charter Communications, one of the largest Internet providers in the US, stands accused of deliberately turning a blind eye to its pirating subscribers.
Several music companies including Capitol Records, Warner Bros. and Sony Music filed a lawsuit against the ISP, arguing that it failed to terminate or otherwise take meaningful action against the accounts of repeat infringers.
Over the past years, both parties have fought this case tooth and nail. Charter went on the offensive and filed a counterclaim accusing the labels of sending inaccurate, false, deceptive, or even fraudulent DMCA takedown notices. This effort failed, but the disputes are far from settled.
Work For Hire
In addition to criticizing the notices, the ISP also questions whether the record companies actually have ‘work for hire’ agreements with all artists, as is claimed in the Copyright Office registrations.
The ISP would like to get to the bottom of this issue, However, a recent order from the Court’s Special Master doesn’t allow the company to question record company witnesses on the matter. In an objection filed this week, Charter asks the Colorado Federal Court to change that.
“Charter has identified several dozen artists whose works the [record companies] have registered with the U.S. Copyright Office as WFH [work for hire] but for which the agreements produced contain no such provision. For other artists, Charter has been unable to identify any artist agreements,” Charter explains.
False Copyright Registrations?
The ISP wants to depose the record label witnesses to obtain evidence proving that the music companies knowingly provided false information to the U.S. Copyright Office. If that’s the case, these copyright registrations are not valid.
“If the [record companies] lack such agreements but nevertheless knowingly filed applications with the U.S. Copyright Office that these works were ‘made for hire,’ Charter can seek to invalidate the registration,” the ISP notes.
This is a crucial matter as the labels request sizable damages for many of these ‘works’. And with millions of dollars in potential damages at stake, Charter wants to make sure that these registrations are correct.
Skeletons in the Closet?
There is another issue that may be just as important. When a sound recording is registered as work “made for hire” the music company essentially becomes the owner, which can lead to all sorts of conflicts with the artists who created the works.
Last year, Hollywood Reporter already hinted that this case could help “resolving the big issue over whether record labels have skeletons in the closet.” Charter quotes this statement in its filing.
Best Interest of Artists
The ISP expects that, in this case, the music companies will state that they act in the best interest of artists. However, the additional testimonies could shed a different light on this claim.
“Here, Plaintiffs will argue, as they did in Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. v. Cox Communications […] that they act in the best interests of their artists,” Charter writes.
“Charter should thus be entitled to present limited testimony related to rebutting that argument, including showing that Plaintiffs falsely take credit for individual artist’s works by incorrectly registering the works as made for hire.”
The ISP filed its objections (pdf) to the Special Master’s order earlier this week. At the time of writing, the court has yet to rule on the matter.