Music Labels File Lawsuit Claiming Charter Enables Piracy

Sony, Universal, Warner music labels, and their subsidiaries, have filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in Colorado, claiming that Charter Communications is enabling music piracy. The claim states that Charter hasn’t ended the accounts of subscribers who pirate copyrighted songs, and that it aids users illegally download music by selling access to high Internet speeds. The latter isn’t a violation of the law, but Internet providers can be held responsible for serial infringers if they do not cut their accounts.

Ars Technica reports that, “the complaint focuses on alleged violations between March 24, 2013 and May 17, 2016,” and states that the plaintiffs sent “hundreds of thousands of infringement notices” to Charter during that time. Accusing Charter of “contributory copyright infringement and vicarious copyright infringement,” the plaintiffs are asking for “statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each work infringed or for actual damages including any profit Charter allegedly made from allowing piracy.”

The record labels focused on “blatant and systematic use of Charter’s Internet service to illegally download, copy, and distribute Plaintiffs’ copyrighted music through BitTorrent and other online file-sharing services,” noting that “online piracy committed via BitTorrent is stunning in nature, speed, and scope.”

The suit points to Charter’s description of its services as enabling subscribers to “download just about anything instantly,” with the ability to “download 8 songs in 3 seconds.” It also cites Charter’s practice of charging higher prices for faster speeds, which is not illegal and, in fact, is “the standard business model of Internet providers.”

The plaintiffs argue that, although Charter blocks “spam and other unwanted activity … [it] has gone out of its way not to take action against subscribers engaging in repeated copyright infringement.” The complaint also states that the plaintiffs have served subpoenas to Charter “and other ISPs to obtain the infringing subscribers’ names and contact information … [but] Charter vigorously opposed the subpoenas.”

Charter would not answer Ars Technica’s question if it ever “terminates the accounts of alleged copyright infringers.” The labels also sued Bright House Networks, a Charter subsidiary, in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida, according to TorrentFreak. Under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ISPs are not liable for Internet users’ copyright infringement if they “adopt and reasonably implement” a repeat violator policy that terminates users’ accounts “in appropriate circumstances,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But the law is vague enough that the courts continue to interpret its meaning.