In a blow to Cox, a federal jury decided on Thursday that the Internet service provider must pay $25 million to music publisher BMG for failing to disconnect subscribers accused of online piracy.
The verdict came at the end of the two-week trial, during which BMG argued that Cox should be held responsible for copyright infringement by its subscribers. The jury found Cox liable for "willful" copyright infringement, and also for contributing to infringement by its users.
The case appears to mark the first time a broadband carrier has been held liable for copyright infringement by users.
The battle between Cox and BMG dates to last November, when BMG sued Cox for allegedly failing to take action against suspected infringers, despite receiving notifications about " thousands of repeated and blatant infringements.”
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act's “safe harbor” provisions immunize Internet service providers like Cox from liability for activity by users -- but only if the ISPs have policies for handling repeat copyright infringers.
U.S. District Court Judge Liam O'Grady in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled recently that Cox didn't qualify for the same harbor because it didn't implement its repeat infringer policy, which required the company to disconnect people suspected of repeatedly sharing copyrighted files.
Earlier in the case Cox drew the support of the digital rights Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, who argued that the company had no obligation to disconnect broadband users based solely on "robosigned" allegations sent by content owners.
"It is simply unthinkable that a person could be deprived of a basic, vital service, practically essential to contemporary societal participation, based on nothing more than unadjudicated, unverified, unreliable allegations of civil wrongdoing," the EFF and Public Knowledge wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with O'Grady in October.