Voltage Pictures and several dozen affiliates and copyright owners have sued Comcast for allegedly refusing to jettison Internet subscribers that repeatedly watch pirated films on illegal BitTorrent sites.
In previous years, Voltage stirred up controversy by going directly after individuals for violating copyright. This suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, takes on the nation’s biggest broadband provider. Copyright holders of The Dallas Buyers Club, I Feel Pretty and other works said Comcast received hundreds of thousands of infringement notices but took “no meaningful action.”
Copyright holders have also sued AT&T and Verizon recently for not doing enough to to stop copyright infringement on their networks.
At the center of the case is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act from the late 1980s, designed back then to protect a nascent Internet. It allows platforms to police their own content and says they’re not responsible for what gets posted, the so-called “safe harbor” provision. The suit says Comcast doesn’t have “safe harbor” from liability because “the DMCA only protects a service provider if the service provider ‘has adopted and reasonably implemented… a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers… who are repeat infringers.”’
“Comcast claims that it has such a policy, but in fact, at all relevant times, Comcast had neither adopted nor reasonably implemented a policy that provides for the termination of repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances,” the suit says.
Why? “According to Comcast’s published policy, Comcast only counted the DMCA notifications regarding a customer account in each month, rather than counting total DMCA notifications. Under this policy, Comcast did not terminate an account that had a very high number of infringements over several months, but not in any one month. And under its published policy, Comcast was not required to terminate any customer accounts at all, no matter how many DMCA notifications from content owners it received regarding a customer account,” according to the suit.
Plaintiffs said they hired data providers to identify IP addresses of Comcast subscribers used to engage the BitTorrent protocol and pirate copies of films. While these are third parties who committed the DMCA violations, Comcast “materially contributed” to them, the suit said.
The size of the entertainment industry’s piracy problem is matched only by the apparent lack of political will to stamp it out. Obama-era legislation called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) failed badly and no one has been willing to try it again. DMCA, instead, became a hot button issue around social media with several years of on-and-off Capitol Hill hearings on hate speech, misinformation and censorship, and dead-end calls for changes to the law — including by former President Donald Trump.
This week’s suit requests actual damages, or statutory damages, attorneys fees and costs, and for Comcast to “implement a policy that provides for the termination of internet services to accounts at which there is repeat copyright infringements.”
A Comcast rep wasn’t immediately available to comment.