Cox Communications is in the middle of a lawsuit brought against it by BMG Rights Management and Round Hill Music. The two companies are suing the ISP for failing to terminate the accounts of pirates and cutting off their Internet access. Cox does have a procedure for terminating accounts of alleged pirates, but has chosen to dismiss some of the claims by these particular rights holders. The companies argued that Cox’s failure to terminate the accounts of alleged repeat offenders meant it was not protected by the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and was therefore liable for the copyright infringement committed by its subscribers.
The case will be put to a jury trial next month, but the judge has issued a partial summary judgement as to whether Cox qualifies for safe harbor protection. The judge has sided with the rights holders, and ruled that Cox does not have an adequate system for terminating the accounts of repeat pirates. This doesn’t necessarily mean Cox will lose the case. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Mitch Stoltz remains optimistic stating, “Regardless of last week’s ruling, Cox should prevail in this lawsuit. No court has ever held that simply transmitting data, without more, amounts to a copyright violation.”
The judge also rejected the arguments that the EFF submitted in its amicus brief in support of Cox, which argued the importance of Internet access in this age and explained the harmful effects this sort of ruling could have. The judge dismissed those claims, stating “I read the brief. It adds absolutely nothing helpful at all. It is a combination of describing the horrors that one endures from losing the Internet for any length of time. Frankly, it sounded like my son complaining when I took his electronics away when he watched YouTube videos instead of doing homework. And it’s completely hysterical.”
Whether Cox wins or loses the case, this ruling has pretty big implications. The alleged pirates in this case haven’t been proven to be such in court, but have merely been accused by the rights holders. This suggests that ISPs must terminate accounts based purely on accusations if they wish to qualify for safe harbor protections. This ruling may encourage media corporations to shotgun out accusations of piracy, and the ISPs will be in the tough position either cutting off Internet access of their users indiscriminately or having to defend themselves in court.
Should Cox be held liable for the piracy of its subscribers? Leave your comments below.