Record Companies Sue Frontier Over Piracy By Broadband Subscribers

The major record labels are suing Frontier Communications for allegedly contributing to “rampant” piracy by failing to disconnect subscribers accused of sharing music.

“Frontier knew that its subscribers were using its high-speed network to illegally download and distribute plaintiffs’ sound recordings,” UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment and other record companies allege in a complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Frontier has received hundreds of thousands of copyright infringement notices from copyright owners ... but chose not to act on those notices and address the rampant infringement on its network,” the companies add.

The record labels say in their complaint that Frontier “operated its network as an attractive tool and safe haven for infringement,” and benefitted from the alleged infringement.

“Frontier decided not to terminate repeat infringers for one simple reason: it wanted to maintain the revenue stream that it generated from their accounts,” the record companies contend.

A company spokesperson says Frontier “believes that it has done nothing wrong and will vigorously defend itself."

The spokesperson adds that Frontier has “terminated many customers about whom copyright owners have complained.”

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 Frontier didn't respond adequately to notifications that its users were infringing copyright.

“Rather than disconnect or otherwise address the Internet access of blatant repeat infringers, Frontier knowingly continued to provide these subscribers with the Internet access that enabled them to continue to illegally download or distribute plaintiffs’ copyrighted works unabated,” the record labels allege.

The record industry has filed other, similar cases against internet service providers, including Cox Communications, Charter and RCN. The lawsuits against Charter and RCN are currently pending in trial courts.

Cox lost at the trial court in late 2019, when a jury decided the broadband provider was responsible for subscribers' piracy and ordered it to pay $1 billion to record labels.

Cox recently urged the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse that finding, arguing that broadband providers like itself don't directly cause copyright infringement, or directly profit from it.

A coalition of digital rights groups -- including Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology -- is siding with Cox in that battle.

Those groups argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed last week that terminating internet service is a “severe and disproportionate” response to allegations of copyright infringement.

“Terminated subscribers would face near-insurmountable difficulties with such fundamental parts of life as finding and maintaining work, getting an adequate education, and obtaining healthcare,” the groups write. “Innocent users, who may not even know they share an internet connection with repeat infringers, should not bear the punishment of losing the ability to participate in economic and civic life.”

The Silicon Valley lobbying group Internet Association also weighed in on Cox's side.

“Terminating a subscriber’s internet access is not a reasonable response to notice of copyright infringement,” the organization wrote in a separate friend-of-the-court brief.

“People depend on the internet to work, learn, and socialize,” the group adds. “A parent whose internet access is terminated due to a teenager’s music piracy may find themselves unable to do their job. Students in a household whose internet access has been terminated may be cut off from their remote classroom. Anyone who loses internet access will face greater barriers to communicate with their friends and family.”

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