Record Labels Sue Broadband Provider RCN Over Piracy By Subscribers

A coalition of record labels have sued the broadband provider RCN and its management company, Patriot Media, for allegedly failing to disconnect subscribers accused of piracy.

“Defendants have received more than five million notices that RCN’s customers were using RCN’s internet services to engage in infringement of copyrighted works, including tens of thousands of blatant infringements by repeat infringers,” UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment and other record companies allege in a complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. Those companies' catalogues include records by Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, One Direction, Kanye West and Rihanna.

“Instead of terminating repeat infringers -- and losing subscription revenue -- RCN for years simply looked the other way and chose to allow the unlawful conduct to continue unabated,” the record companies allege.

The labels say RCN and Patriot contributed to copyright infringement by users, among other claims.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has “safe harbor” provisions that protect internet service providers from liability for users' activity -- but only if the providers have policies for handling repeat offenders. The record companies say RCN didn't adequately respond to allegations that its subscribers were using BitTorrent to download music unlawfully

“Although RCN purported to adopt a policy to address repeat infringers, RCN in reality never adopted or reasonably implemented a policy that provided for the termination of repeat infringers,” the record labels assert. “Its purported policy was a sham.”

RCN isn't the only broadband provider facing suit by record labels. Charter is currently facing similar claims in federal courts in Colorado and Florida.

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 copyright law's safe harbor provisions, because it failed to disconnect repeat copyright offenders. 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 year, BMG and Cox settled the matter.

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