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Court excuses some Cox customers from ongoing BMG/Round Hill legal battle

By | Published on Tuesday 7 July 2015

Cox Communications

Some of the Cox Communications customers pulled into the US internet service provider’s legal dispute with BMG and Round Hill Music have been removed from the proceedings on account of them having a very good excuse indeed.

As previously reported, BMG and Round Hill have sued Cox claiming that the ISP should lose safe harbour protection under US law because it has failed to forward letters to suspected file-sharers amongst its customer base.

Most of the big net firms in America are part of the Copyright Alert System, whereby they send on warning letters to suspected pirates. But Cox does not participate in this scheme. The music rights firms argue that its alternative approach is not good enough, so much so the ISP should be held liable for the copyright infringement of its customers (something the aforementioned safe harbours would usually prevent).

As the case rumbles on, the music firms sought to access the contact information for some of the suspected file-sharers on Cox’s networks (because monitoring by the music industry can only identify IP addresses where piracy occurs, not the name of the person using that internet connection). As previously reported, while the plaintiffs had 150,000 suspected file-sharers on their list, the court said Cox must reveal the identities of just 250.

The ISP then wrote to those 250 customers, with 32 objecting to having their information handed over to BMG and Round Hill. Some objected on the grounds that they deny the file-sharing allegations, but others said that they weren’t even Cox customers at the time of the alleged infringement, and that a previous customer must have been using the offending IP address at that time.

Cox had to take the objections to court and the judge, rather reasonably, has now accepted the latter group’s argument as to why they should be excused from the whole dispute. But, according to Torrentfreak, those simply denying they file-shared weren’t so lucky, and Cox will now provide their personal info to the music companies.

Said the judge: “Several of the persons submitting objections have provided information to the court that is sufficient to establish that they were not assigned the IP addresses that are the subject of the court’s ruling at the time of the alleged infringing activity. The court sustains the objections raised by those individuals”.

But, he went on: “The mere denial of any infringing activity is an insufficient reason to justify quashing the subpoena to Cox. In addition, any concerns these individuals may have relating to privacy are addressed adequately by the provisions of the protective order entered in this action”.

The latter bit of that statement throws some light on BMG and Round Hill’s intentions here. The “protective order” means that the two firms can only use the information they get from Cox to aid them with their specific case against the ISP, they can’t launch separate proceedings against the actual suspected file-sharers. And, it now seems, the music rights firms had no intention of doing that anyway.

Quite how the two companies hope the suspected file-sharers now identified can help them with their case against Cox remains to be seen.