RIAA Paid Handsomely for BitTorrent Piracy Evidence

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Anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp has profited handsomely from the music industry's efforts to hold ISPs accountable for pirating subscribers. According to a recent court filing, the company convinced the RIAA to pay $700,000 for notices related to Grande Communications.

Regular Internet providers are being put under increasing pressure for not doing enough to curb copyright infringement.

This has already resulted in several ‘repeat infringer’ lawsuits in US federal courts. The major record labels, helped by the RIAA, are the driving force behind most of these cases.

There is another notable party of interest though. Anti-piracy company Rightscorp, known for sending settlement requests to alleged pirates through the DMCA notification system, plays a central role as well.

The company’s notices are used as ‘evidence’ to show that ISPs such as Grande and Cox Communications failed to disconnect repeat infringers from their networks. While Rightscorp settlement practices haven’t been particularly profitable, court records reveal that the company was paid handsomely for its litigation support.

In a recent court filing, which was insufficiently redacted, Grande Communications reveals that the BitTorrent piracy monitoring company was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“In 2016, Rightscorp approached the Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA”) and convinced that association to purchase Rightscorp’s Grande-related notices for $700,000,” Grande’s legal team writes.

“Rightscorp also convinced the RIAA to pay Rightscorp’s representatives hourly rates of $350-$500 to testify in this matter,” they add.

It is no secret that RIAA is a Rightscorp customer, or that Rightscorp inspired the RIAA to sue ISPs, but this is the first time we’ve read that the music industry group specifically paid for the notices. Further details on the agreement were not revealed, however.

The information comes from a motion for summary judgment that was denied near instantly, as it relied heavily on redacted elements. While a revised version will likely be submitted later, it’s quite clear that Grande rejects any attempts to hold it liable for pirating subscribers.

The company notes that the major record labels want to turn ISPs into de facto copyright enforcement agents, a strategy it clearly rejects.

“Having given up on actually pursuing direct infringers due to bad publicity, and having decided not to target the software and websites that make online file-sharing possible, the recording industry has shifted its focus to fashioning new forms of copyright liability that would require ISPs to act as the copyright police,” the denied motion reads.

Although the RIAA is not listed as a plaintiff, it is clear that the music group helped to set out the legal strategy for the labels. This prompted Grande to request information from the RIAA, in particularly its communications with Rightscorp.

The RIAA is refusing to hand over all the requested documents, however, claiming that some are protected work. Grande, therefore, filed a separate motion to compel the RIAA to hand over this information.

“Plaintiffs and the RIAA are relying on Rightscorp’s work product to support their claims in this case, while at the same time refusing to produce Rightscorp materials, and communications with Rightscorp, that may undermine those claims. The Court should not permit this sort of gamesmanship,” Grande’s legal team writes.

It appears that the ISP is trying to use Rightscorp’s evidence and its role in this case, for its defense. The company already discredited the accuracy of the notices, and described Rightscorp as little more than a “hired gun,” albeit one that was handsomely paid.

Update: Grande also submitted a motion for summary judgment in its favor, repeating some of the language used above, and then some (pdf).

“Plaintiffs’ legal theories represent an absurd expansion of copyright liability. In essence, Plaintiffs want to require ISPs to terminate the accounts of subscribers based on nothing more
than unsubstantiated and unverifiable allegations of copyright infringement.

To further this effort, the recording industry enlists a third party to bombard ISPs like Grande with hundreds of thousands of such allegations per year—more than any ISP could ever reasonably investigate and attempt to verify, even if it had the practical ability to do so.

These notices are sent by a company that shockingly does nothing to verify the registration or ownership of any of the songs for which it sends out millions of notices of infringement and collects monetary settlements.”

This puts ISPs in an impossible position: either terminate subscribers based on unverified allegations of infringement, or face litigation for the secondary infringement of thousands of copyrighted works. Fortunately, the copyright law simply does not and cannot allow for secondary liability in these circumstances.

A copy of Grande’s reply in support of its motion to compel the RIAA to hand over additional information is available here (pdf)

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