After a long-running copyright infringement lawsuit, the major record companies have reached a settlement with U.S. internet service provider Charter Communications. The ISP was sued by the Big Three in 2019 in response to massive copyright infringement by its users and the company’s complacency toward its own infringer policies. They were in fact sued twice, and this agreement settles both lawsuits.
It was alleged that the infringement occurred between March 2013 and May 2016. The second lawsuit reached the court last year. It focused on alleged copyright infringement by Charter subscribers starting in July of 2018. Charter was accused of earning significant profits from the “massive infringement” by its thousands of subscribers—and of doing nothing about it, despite thousands of detailed notices and its legal obligation to go after illegal downloading of copyrighted material.
There have been numerous lawsuits against US ISPs that were accused of shirking their responsibilities to stop copyright infringement that occurred on their networks. Prior to this recent litigation were successful cases against Cox Communications, first sued by BMG and then the major labels. More than a year ago, the Big Three also accused Frontier Communications of ignoring repeated infringements by subscribers. Frontier also denied the claim.
The legal filings against Cox accused the company of not acting on its policy for repeat infringers. ISPs are required to enforce these policies to be covered by the copyright safe harbor, which releases them from liability for customers’ copyright infringement.
Since Cox did not have a system in place to deal with repeat infringers, the company lost its safe harbor protection, and were liable for its users’ infringement. When the lawsuit was served, they were on the hook for a billion dollars in damages.
Based on that case, Charter, which does business as Spectrum, wanted to avoid a court appearance and has tried to get the cases dismissed. One of their arguments was that the copyright notices could not be trusted, a claim that was thrown out by the courts, allowing the lawsuits to proceed. This has made the prospect of a settlement especially attractive, so as not to have it come to an inevitable court case.
Another ISP, Bright House, reached a settlement with the labels earlier in the week, just before the case was scheduled to be heard. Ironically, Bright House is a former internet provider that was purchased in 2016 by Charter Communications. Once Bright House had reached an agreement, the Charter settlement followed soon after. The two legal actions were related to infringements that occurred at different times.
Details about the Charter and Bright House settlements have not been made public, though it is suspected that it involved a cash payment. Court filings only state that the three suits are now resolved.