Record labels sue Charter for ignoring copyright violations

Credit: Rebecca Enright/Art Editor Credit: Rebecca Enright/Art Editor

The internet has changed many things about how we live our lives. It has altered news, academia, and even social interactions. But, possibly most of all, the internet changed how we consume media. It became faster, easier, and (more importantly) cheaper than ever to find and download the content you were looking for.

That change was due, in part, to the rise of online piracy applications like Napster, Limewire, and sites like Pirate Bay. These file-sharing platforms gave users the opportunity to disseminate free copies of digital media, with little technical knowledge required.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), combined with numerous lawsuits by content producers, eventually led to the demise of certain sharing services (e.g. Napster and Limewire). Additionally, many institutions and corporations have their own internal procedures for dealing with piracy on their networks. For example, Carnegie Mellon informs students that if they are found pirating following a DMCA notice, said student could have their network access revoked.

Although such measures, both private and federal, might have curbed piracy somewhat, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), copyright holders, and the government are still fighting that battle. Even with the advent of streaming services, the rise in platform-exclusive content is thought to be responsible for a rise in piracy this past year.

But there is more to the piracy debate than whether people are pirating or not. In the past week, music labels have turned to blaming ISPs for failing to stop pirates. On March 23, Charter Communications, reportedly the second-largest cable operator in the US, was sued by Sony, Universal, and Warner for failing to disconnect users for alleged copyright infringement violations between March 24, 2013, and May 17, 2016.

Additionally, the lawsuit states that “Charter's customers are motivated to subscribe to Charter's service because it allows them to download music and other copyrighted content — including unauthorized content — as efficiently as possible.” In other words, it appears that the music labels believe that Charter is enabling piracy by providing faster internet speeds as part of their package tiers.

Now, under DMCA rules, an ISP cannot be held responsible for a customer’s actions. This statement, however, comes with a condition: ISPs are expected to investigate any DMCA notice filed with them, and terminate any user accounts found to be guilty of copyright infringement (or have a similar such policy, where the punishment could include fines instead of outright termination). This is part of why Carnegie Mellon suspends network privileges in response to a DMCA notice.

The problem comes when an ISP does not pursue a DMCA request and terminate user accounts, as required by the individual label’s copyrights. And here is where things get dicey for Charter. The lawsuit claims that they have “gone out of [their] way not to take action against subscribers engaging in repeated copyright infringements.”

If Charter Communications can prove that they “reasonably implemented” a policy to handle repeat infringements, then they might be in the clear. But in the past, music labels have sued other ISPs (including Cox and Grande Communications) for similar reasons — some of which either settled or were ruled in favor of the music labels. But for now, it is up to Charter to prove that they have adhered to their infringement policies.