Internet Law

Suit challenges Rightscorp's ticketing method of policing infringers; are ISPs liable?

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A company that uses crawler technology to monitor file-sharing networks and identify illegal downloaders is facing a lawsuit claiming its agents are using illegal debt collection methods to collect from copyright infringers.

The would-be class action suit against Rightscorp Inc. claims its agents use illegal robocalling and misleading notices to collect, according to The Pietz Law Firm, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs; and the Fight Copyright Trolls blog. The suit alleges violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as California state law.

Rightscorp seeks settlements from alleged illegal downloaders that are as low as $20 in a process dubbed a “traffic ticket model” of enforcement. The company, which alerts the downloader’s Internet Service Provider with each instance of infringement, contends that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires ISPs to terminate service to repeat infringers.

According to the Nov. 21 lawsuit (PDF), filed in federal court in California, Rightscorp sends automated settlement offers to settle for $20 per infringement, while warning of potential liability of up to $150,000 per infringement absent a settlement.

The suit claims the defendants engaged in unfair collections practices, failed to provide required validation and notices, and sent emails and letters that would lead consumers to believe their Internet Service Providers were participating in the attempt to collect.

The complaint also alleges Rightscorp has no standing to sue for copyright violations because the copyrights remain with its clients. The suit also claims Rightscorp issues subpoenas to conduit ISPs that are not authorized by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, amounting to an abuse of process.

Rightscorp is apparently taking a tough stance against ISPs. A lawsuit filed on Wednesday by clients of Rightscorp claims copyright infringement by Cox Communications for allegedly refusing to cut off subscribers who are repeat infringers, report Ars Technica and TechDirt.

“There’s little precedent for a lawsuit trying to hold an ISP responsible for users engaged in piracy,” Ars Technica says. “If a judge finds Cox liable for the actions of users on its network, it will have major implications for the company and the whole cable industry. It’s one thing to terminate an account on YouTube, but cable subscribers can pay well over $100 per month–and BMG and Round Hill claim that they’ve notified Cox about 200,000 repeat infringers on its network.”

Related article:

ABA Journal: “Rightscorp fights Internet piracy by ‘ticketing’ copyright infringers”

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