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Now the film producers sue AT&T and Verizon over allegedly slack copyright policies

By | Published on Friday 9 September 2022


The consortium of US film producers that have been busy suing a plethora of internet companies of late have now filed lawsuits against both AT&T and Verizon, claiming that the two American internet service providers do not do enough to stop copyright infringement on their networks.

Although it was music companies that really got things going in terms to targeting ISPs over their copyright infringing customers, with BMG and then the majors successfully going after Cox Communications, this consortium of independent film-makers has been particularly prolific when it comes to filing lawsuits of this kind, against various ISPs and other internet firms.

Of course, technically US copyright law provides a safe harbour for internet companies stopping them from being liable for their customers’ infringement. However, to qualify for that safe harbour, a net firm must have systems in place to deal with infringing content on its networks and repeat infringers among its customer base.

In the Cox case, BMG and the majors demonstrated that the ISP only paid lip service to its policies regarding infringing content and customers, and therefore it lost safe harbour protection and was held liable for all the infringement on its networks. To the tune of a billion dollars in the major labels’ case.

Subsequent lawsuits against other ISPs and internet companies, filed by both the majors and these film producers, have all argued that the targeted companies, just like Cox, do not do enough to combat infringement and infringers and therefore do not qualify for safe harbour protection.

Given most of the targeted companies do have some sort of anti-infringement systems in place, the plaintiffs need to explain why those systems are inadequate.

The targeting of AT&T and Verizon in the latest lawsuits is interesting because they, unlike the net firms previously sued, took part in the Copyright Alert System, a programme run in the 2010s by the music and movie industries and five US ISPs that aimed to combat online piracy.

Although that programme was ultimately only active for about four years and arguably didn’t achieve much in terms of stopping infringement online, presumably both AT&T and Verizon will argue that their involvement in the scheme proves that they take their responsibilities regarding dealing with infringement and infringers on their networks seriously. And certainly more seriously than Cox and some of the other net firms that have been sued in recent years.

With AT&T, the film producers claim that – although in theory the ISP operates a system for dealing with repeat infringers – when their anti-piracy agent sent copyright notices in relation to certain customers who seemingly regularly infringed copyright, no action was taken.

Their lawsuit states: “For example, AT&T failed to terminate the account of its subscriber at IP address even after AT&T received multiple notices of copyright infringement at this address. AT&T received at least 1000 notices of copyright infringement for this IP address”.

A similar complaint is made in the lawsuit against Verizon. The film producers say that their anti-piracy agent has logged hundreds of thousands of pirated movies being shared across the ISP’s networks, and adds that over 90,000 copyright notices were sent to the net firm, and yet – the producers allege – no real action was taken against the infringers.

And, in some cases, the infringement notices weren’t even forwarded to the customers who were allegedly infringing copyright. And not only that, but the producers have various issues with Verizon’s system for even receiving the copyright notices.

With all that in mind, the producers say, the ISPs should be held liable for copyright infringement. They are seeking damages, and demanding ramped up repeat infringer policies from the ISPs plus – as with some of their other lawsuits – for the defendants to commit to block access to some piracy sites.

We await with interest to see the responses from both net firms.