When it comes to piracy and copyright violation, one would reasonably assume that the entirety of culpability lies with the offender. After all, there isn't much in the way of excuse for doing something that most know to be wrong in misappropriating copyrighted material (and ignorance is a poor defense.) You might see characters on television or in the movies forced to hack computer systems and steal sensitive information under duress, but likely no one is at your house making you torrent "Vice Principals." However, a recent court ruling could bring cable providers into the mix in cases of customers' copyright infringement.
A U.S. District Court has ruled that Cox Communications is liable for a $25 million decision awarded to the music rights company BMG for cases of copyright infringement by Cox customers. BMG uses a company called Rightscorp to monitor cases of individuals sharing copyrighted files over the internet and notify their internet providers of the infringement, with the expectation that Cox and others would take steps in order to stop their customers' piracy. In this case, however, BMG believed that Cox was deliberately using delay tactics and other means of obfuscating in order to avoid taking action against offending customers and filed suit.
At issue between the two sides seems to be the manner in which Rightscorp was attempting to address potential cases of infringement with Cox customers as well as Cox's perceived lack of interest in seriously pursuing customers who infringe. Cox has a policy that allows for thirteen offenses before a customer's account is shut down, and multiple incidents within the same day are rolled into one offense. Cox had also taken the step of blocking messages from Rightscorp intended for Cox customers for what they felt was unscrupulous practices. Rightscorp messages to those they detect have violated copyright include details of the offense as well as an offer to settle the complaint for a small amount, payable through a link in the message. Cox has a policy of not forwarding notices with such settlement terms, and argued that a notification does not establish infringement.
The decision raises questions as to the obligations of internet providers when it comes to cooperating with rightsholders to shut down infringement, and whether other providers will be held liable in the future. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) provides "safe havens" for internet providers in cases of piracy and infringement, provided they meet a certain broad set of standards of compliance when it comes to acting on cases of infringement. But the particularly aggressive nature of Rightscorp's notices put Cox in a bind, and other internet providers may soon find themselves having to contemplate their own policies in order to avoid future lawsuits.