Broadband Provider Charter Sued By Record Labels Over Piracy By Users

The internet service provider Charter was hit with a lawsuit by a coalition of record labels that allege the company contributed copyright infringement by failing to disconnect subscribers who engaged in piracy on peer-to-peer networks.

“Charter deliberately turned a blind eye to its subscribers’ infringement,” Warner Bros., Sony, Universal Music Group and others allege in a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Colorado. “Despite its professed commitment to taking action against repeat offenders, Charter routinely thumbed its nose at plaintiffs by continuing to provide service to subscribers it knew to be serially infringing copyrighted sound recordings and musical compositions.”

The record labels say in their complaint that Charter's terms of service allow the company to suspend or terminate accounts of infringers, but that it failed to do so, even after being informed of “blatant and repeated infringement” by specific users.

“Charter’s motivation for refusing to terminate or suspend the accounts of blatant infringing subscribers is simple: it valued corporate profits over its legal responsibilities,” the labels allege.

A Charter spokesperson says the company "will defend against these baseless accusations.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbors protect internet service providers from liability for users' activity -- but only if the ISPs have policies for handling repeat offenders. The record companies say Charter didn't adequately respond to allegations of infringement by users.

“From 2012 through 2015, Charter received hundreds of thousands of notices, provided under penalty of perjury, detailing specific instances of its subscribers using P2P protocols on its network to distribute and copy plaintiffs’ copyrighted content unlawfully both within, and beyond, the Charter network,” the record companies allege.

The labels on Friday filed a similar suit against internet service provider Bright House Networks (acquired by Charter in 2016) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Charter and Bright House aren't the only internet service providers to face allegations of contributing to copyright infringement. Several years ago, the record company BMG sued Cox for allegedly allowing piracy on its network.

The trial judge in that matter said Cox wasn't entitled to rely on the safe harbors, because it failed to disconnect people who repeatedly infringed. A jury returned a verdict against Cox of $25 million, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling due to an improper instruction to the jury.

The trial judge had told jurors they could find Cox liable if it should have known about infringement by users. But the 4th Circuit ruled that companies are only liable for contributing to infringement if they know about acts of infringement, or are willfully blind to them. Last August, BMG and Cox settled the matter.

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