Amidst growing concerns surrounding online privacy and security, VPN services have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Millions of people use VPNs to stay secure and to prevent outsiders from tracking their online activities. As with regular Internet providers, a subsection of these subscribers may be engaged in piracy activities.
Over the past few years, we have seen copyright holders take several ISPs to court, accusing them of failing to disconnect repeat copyright infringers. These lawsuits have expanded recently, with VPN providers and hosting companies as the main targets.
The VPN lawsuits are filed by a group of independent movies companies that previously went after piracy sites and apps. They include the makers of films such as The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Dallas Buyers Club, and London Has Fallen.
Filmmakers sued Torguard
In one of these cases, the filmmakers accused Torguard of being involved in widespread copyright infringement. The company allegedly ‘encouraged’ subscribers to use pirate sites while helping to conceal movie piracy.
“TorGuard knows and encourages its end users to use its VPN service to access The Pirate Bay and pirate content” the complaint read, pointing to a topic in the Torguard forums.
“When TorGuard’s end users have trouble accessing Pirate Bay, TorGuard’s official moderators give them advice on how to fix their settings so that the end users can freely pirate content,” the movie companies added.
In response to this complaint, TorGuard asked a Florida federal court to dismiss the case. Among other things, the VPN company argued that the movie companies never sent any of their alleged copyright infringement and takedown notices to TorGuard’s designated DMCA agent.
Settlement & U.S. Torrent Blocking
The court hasn’t ruled on this motion yet, and that’s no longer needed either. Earlier this month, both parties agreed to end the legal dispute with a confidential settlement agreement.
There is no evidence that any money will change hands and both sides have agreed to cover their own costs. However, the settlement comes with a twist. As Bleeping Computer spotted, Torguard agrees to block BitTorrent traffic on U.S. servers.
“Pursuant to a confidential settlement agreement, Plaintiffs have requested, and Defendant has agreed to use commercially reasonable efforts to block BitTorrent traffic on its servers in the United States using firewall technology,” a joint statement reads.
This is quite a far-reaching measure as a broad BitTorrent blockade will also affect legal traffic, which includes software updates from Twitter and Facebook. That said, people can still use BitTorrent on servers in other regions.
TorrentFreak reached out to TorGuard and a spokesperson shared the company’s official comment, which was also posted on its own website a few minutes ago. The company confirms that it’s blocking torrent traffic on U.S. servers, but that doesn’t change anything for the privacy of users.
“TorGuard has not been forced to log network usage data. Due to the nature of shared IP’s and related hardware technicalities of how TorGuard’s network was built it is impossible for us to do so,” the VPN provider writes.
“We have a responsibility to provide high quality uninterrupted VPN and proxy services to our client base at large while mitigating any related network abuse that should arise. This commitment to user privacy and service reliability is the reason we have taken measures to block Bittorrent traffic on servers within the United States.”
TorGuard is not the first VPN service to agree to block BitTorrent traffic to settle a lawsuit filed by these movie companies. VPN Unlimited signed a similar deal a few weeks ago and last year VPN.ht also agreed to block torrent traffic on U.S. servers.
While the settlement effectively ends TorGuard’s legal dispute with the filmmakers, it could fuel the flames of another lawsuit that was deemed to be over.
Last December, a Florida federal court dismissed copyright infringement claims the filmmakers had lodged against hosting company QuadraNet. The case was dismissed, as Quadranet wasn’t aware of any specific infringements, nor could it control or stop any specific piracy activity.
The filmmakers were not happy with this ruling and asked the court to reconsider the order. They hope that, when allowed, they can properly back up their claims when sufficient evidence is gathered.
Some extra evidence could come from TorGuard, which previously leased servers from QuadraNet. As part of the settlement, the VPN provider also signed a list of undisputed facts, where the hosting company is prominently featured.
For example, the movie companies sent 97,640 Notices to QuadraNet of alleged piracy activities on SOCKS5 IP addresses that were assigned to TorGuard. However, these were never forwarded to the VPN provider.
“Had Quadranet sent these Notices to our DMCA agent, TorGuard’s ordinary business practices would have been to immediately take steps to stop further piracy,” TorGuard states, adding that “Quadranet never took any disciplinary actions against TorGuard in response to these Notices.”
As far as we can see, the Florida federal court has yet to rule on this motion for reconsideration. Given the track record of the movie companies, this is probably not the last we’ve heard of it.
A copy of the joint stipulation, mentioning the dismissal and the blocking intent, is available here (pdf)