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Comcast, Verizon, AT&T sued for failing to stop movie piracy

Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Comcast were hit with copyright lawsuits accusing them of turning a blind eye to customers who illegally distribute and download pirated films. The production companies seek to force the internet providers to implement policies that provide for the termination of accounts held by repeat offenders and to block certain piracy websites.

The trio of complaints filed throughout September, with the most recent filed Tuesday in Pennsylvania federal court, come from Voltage Pictures, After Productions and Ammo Entertainment, among others. Two law firms, Dovel & Luner and Culpepper IP, are representing the production labels.

The internet providers knowingly contributed to copyright infringement by their customers, the lawsuits claim. Plaintiffs say they sent Verizon, AT&T and Comcast hundreds of thousands of notices about specific instances of infringement. They claim, for example, to have sent over 100,000 notices to Comcast concerning the illegal downloading of I Feel Pretty using its services. The lawsuit seeks to hold the internet providers liable for failing to investigate.

“Comcast did not take meaningful action to prevent ongoing infringements by these Comcast users,” states the complaint. “Comcast failed to terminate the accounts associated with these IP addresses or otherwise take any meaningful action in response to these Notices. Comcast often failed to even forward the Notices to its internet service customers or otherwise inform them about the Notice or its contents.”

The internet providers, therefore, vicariously infringed on plaintiffs’ movies since they had the right to terminate the accounts of customers who violate copyright law, the suit alleges.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1988, criminalizes services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works. It provides protection from liability for services providers.

But the production companies argue the internet providers don’t have safe harbor under the law since it only shields companies if they’ve adopted and implemented policies that provide for the termination of accounts held by repeat offenders.

The lawsuit says none of the internet providers maintains policies that mandate ousting customers who repeatedly receive notices of copyright infringement. Under AT&T’s policy, a subscriber’s receipt of multiple copyright alerts is only a factor used by the company in determining whether to terminate services. Comcast says under its policy that it will boot repeat infringers but only counts the number of violations a customer receives in a single month rather than counting the total number of violations. Verizon’s policy, in comparison, makes it overly burdensome for production companies to notify it of instances of copyright infringement and does nothing about pirating even when it’s aware, the lawsuit claims.

“Verizon did not terminate customer accounts even if it received information about a high number of repeat infringements at those customer accounts,” the complaint states. “For example, Verizon Communications Inc. has allowed hundreds of infringements to occur at certain accounts, despite receiving at least as many notices of infringement regarding those accounts. And Verizon users have reported receiving multiple infringement notices from Verizon without having their accounts terminated.”

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Voltage has a history of suing to protect its intellectual property. In 2014, it sued dozens of people who pirated Dallas Buyers Club, which was nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards the year prior. Several were forced to accept four-figure settlements. The company followed up by suing Grande Communications, an internet provider in Texas, last year for failing to address illegal downloads. Hollywood Reporter

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