ISP’s lawsuit over piracy liability is denied summary judgments

Teddy Sagi
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Several big record companies are trying to get Bright House to pay for the illegal activities of its customers who download music from the Internet. Before going to court, both sides tried to get summary judgments in their favor to get a head start. Summary judgments are usually issued on the merits of an entire case. At this point, the court is not taking a side. Instead, it has decided that all issues must be heard at trial.

Most people think of Internet service providers as neutral. Still, several record labels say that some of these companies profit from piracy.

Several ISPs, including Charter, Cox, RCN, and Bright House, have been sued for not getting rid of repeat copyright violators in the past few years.

Music Industry vs. Bright House

Under US copyright law, Internet service providers must act against persistent pirates “when it makes sense to do so.” The lawsuits say that the ISPs didn’t do this because they wanted to protect their profits.

In 2019, several major music companies, including Artista Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music, and Warner Records, made similar arguments to the court in the case against Bright House, which Charter now owns. The case is about to go to trial after three years.

Both sides have recently asked for summary judgments so that important issues can be settled before the jury hears them.

Two Summary Judgment Requests

Bright House asked the court to throw out the last remaining claim of “contributory” copyright violation. The ISP says there is no proof that the company encouraged, caused, or made a significant contribution to the piracy activities of its customers.

Bright House said, among other things, that it had a strong anti-infringement program to stop and discourage future copyright violations. Also, the ISP said that tens of thousands of piracy notices were sent to the wrong address and never received.

The music companies also asked for a partial summary judgment. They took the opposite stance and asked the court to decide that the ISP is responsible for the piracy of its customers.

The plaintiffs say Bright House’s plan to stop piracy didn’t work. They point out that the law says ISPs have to close the accounts of repeat infringers when it’s the right thing to do. That didn’t happen here.

The court puts matters on trial

These summary judgments could have made a big difference in the upcoming trial, but they didn’t. US District Court Judge Mary Scriven turned down both requests at the end of last week. She said that important disagreements about the facts should be settled in court.

For example, Bright House’s claim that notices were not sent or received needs to be examined in more detail. The same is true for the question of whether or not the ISP did enough to stop subscribers from pirating.

For the same reason, the music companies’ request for summary judgment was turned down. The record labels asked the court to confirm that the files Bright House subscribers shared were indeed stolen copies. Judge Scriven, on the other hand, wants to keep these and other questions open.

“This case will proceed to trial as planned, and the jury will be called upon to review the evidence and resolve the factual disputes on these questions,” Judge Scriven writes in her order.

If either side’s motion had been granted, it would have changed much about how the trial went. But many important questions remain unanswered, which means that either side could still win.

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