Cox Claims Rightscorp's 'Extortionate' Lawsuit Really A Backdoor Way To Get Subscribers' Info
from the cox-blocked dept
Rightscorp (via two music publishers) has dragged Cox into court to test its novel (read: legally unsound) theory that complying with the DMCA means cutting off service to “repeat infringers.” The theory itself is largely untested, but far from promising. But that isn’t stopping BMG and Round Hill Music (with Rightscorp as a not-so-silent partner) from taking a flyer on a bad legal bet. Certainly, the theory would be advantageous to the shakedown efforts Rightscorp generously refers to as a “business model,” but, so far, the only thing being offered as “evidence” of repeat infringement is Rightscorp’s own declarations.
Those declarations are highly suspect. Cox has filed an opposition to Rightscorp’s Motion to Compel that highlights the anti-piracy company’s extortion-esque tactics.
In a statement that leaves little to the imagination, Cox notes that Rightscorp is “threatening” subscribers with “extortionate” letters.
“Rightscorp is in the business of threatening Internet users on behalf of copyright owners. Rightscorp specifically threatens subscribers of ISPs with loss of their Internet service — a punishment that is not within Rightscorp’s control — unless the subscribers pay a settlement demand,” Cox writes (pdf).
Cox has refused to participate in Rightscorp’s quasi-legal activities. While the company is not opposed to passing on infringement allegations, it did ask Rightscorp to remove the threatening language (cutting off service, $150,000 per infringement claim) first. Rightscorp refused to do so. This impasse is obviously unacceptable to Rightscorp, which depends on the (very) occasional settlement payment to keep its business barely afloat.
As Cox points out, Rightscorp has decided the best course of action is to maintain its unsteady perch on the edge of legality. In the filing, Cox alleges that Rightscorp tried to make the ISP a “business partner” in its shakedown attempts.
“Rightscorp had a history of interactions with Cox in which Rightscorp offered Cox a share of the settlement revenue stream in return for Cox’s cooperation in transmitting extortionate letters to Cox’s customers. Cox rebuffed Rightscorp’s approach,” Cox informs the court.
But that’s not the only legally-dubious tactic the “cutting edge” anti-piracy firm has deployed. It’s also attempting to use this lawsuit’s discovery process to sidestep subpoena limitations.
The motion lays bare one of Plaintiffs’ primary reasons for bringing this lawsuit. Plaintiffs seek to circumvent the Cable Privacy Act process and instead use discovery in this case to force Cox to reveal, en masse, PII for possibly tens of thousands of Internet subscribers who Plaintiffs speculate might be violating their copyrights. The Cable Privacy Act expressly prohibits Cox from disclosing its subscribers’ PII, for good reason: Internet subscribers have a compelling privacy interest in the confidentiality of their personal information, which can of course be vulnerable to exploitation for myriad improper purposes. If a copyright holder earnestly believes that an unnamed Internet subscriber is infringing upon its copyrights, the proper course is to bring a “John Doe” lawsuit against the subscriber and then to use third-party subpoena power to obtain identifying information from the user’s Internet Service Provider. That legitimate procedure allows notice to the subscriber and an opportunity for the subscriber to act to protect his or her rights. It also relieves the ISP of the unfair responsibility of adjudicating which of the two competing interests (the subscriber’s or the accuser’s) should trump the other.
Plaintiffs nominally (Rightscorp in reality) claim to have identified “approximately 150,000” infringers, including several hundred “egregious infringers,” among Cox’s subscribers. But Plaintiffs apparently have only IP addresses to go on. (Doc. 72, Corrected Br. at 3.) Plaintiffs have not filed any “John Doe” lawsuits against Cox customers and have not sought information from Cox by subpoena. More importantly, Plaintiffs do not seek, and have not sought, leave to add “John Doe” defendants in this case.
The practical dynamics of this motion are suspect: If there are 150,000 infringers among Cox subscribers, as Plaintiffs claim, why would they limit themselves (at least for now) to just 500 “egregious infringers”? Will Plaintiffs seek to depose or serve Rule 45 subpoenas on those 500? Will Plaintiffs now seek to add those 500 as co-defendants? Why do Plaintiffs want a blank-check “open order” to continually demand that Cox reveal more identities at later stages in this action? When tested in practical terms, Plaintiffs’ motion makes no sense, and their arguments plainly are an obvious pretext for some other motive.
“Pretext for some other motive” basically describes the entirety of Rightscorp’s business model. It subpoenas ISPs for subscriber info, under the unspoken pretext that further legal action is in the offing. But instead of suing file sharers, the company instead uses the information to harass subscribers into paying “settlements” for alleged infringement.
Despite the damning claims made by Cox, the court has partially granted the questionable Motion to Compel. The ISP has been ordered to turn over the “Top 250 IP Addresses recorded to have infringed in the six months prior to filing the Complaint.” This distinction is important, because as Cox points out in its opposing motion, the plaintiffs’ constantly-widening net had managed to drag in alleged infringers whose infringement didn’t occur until after the lawsuit was filed.
Plaintiffs’ stated justifications for their extraordinary request do not help Plaintiffs’ cause. Plaintiffs acknowledge that they “must establish direct infringement of the copyrighted works asserted in this case,” and imply that their motion serves that end. (Doc. 72, Corrected Br. at 4.) But that implication is illogical because Plaintiffs seek PII for 500 subscribers of the 150,000 supposedly implicated here. Surely Plaintiffs are not prepared to concede that their claims fail for the works that the other 149,500 subscribers allegedly infringed. Notably, of the 500 allegedly “egregious infringers” the Plaintiffs hand-picked, 250 allegedly infringed after this lawsuit was filed. (Doc. 72, Corrected Br. at 4.) Those subscribers’ alleged infringements, therefore, cannot have formed a basis for Plaintiffs’ claims in this suit. And nowhere do Plaintiffs even assert that Rightscorp sent purported DMCA notices to Cox with respect to those particular subscribers.
Cox has come out swinging in the early going, and its assertions confirm much of what has been written about Rightscorp and its tactics. This aggressive stance should help uncover plenty of damning details, none of which should have a positive effect on Rightscorp’s shriveling stock price.