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Rightscorp settles class action over its phone calls to suspected pirates

By | Published on Wednesday 13 January 2016


Having seen one of its clients – BMG – score a significant win against US internet service provider Cox Communications last year, anti-piracy firm Rightscorp is conceding in another legal battle. It has settled a class action that accused the company of breaking American telecommunication laws by calling and texting suspected pirates.

As much previously reported, Rightscorp’s tactics for chasing people suspected of accessing or sharing unlicensed content online have been criticised in various quarters.

Cox Communications – when accused by BMG of being liable for its customers’ copyright infringement by basically refusing to work with Rightscorp to tackle infringers – relied heavily in its unsuccessful defence on the controversies that had surrounded the anti-piracy agency’s practices. Though the judge hearing the case stopped Cox from dubbing Rightscorp a ‘copyright troll’ in court.

The anti-piracy tactic causing controversy in this other case was Rightscorp using automated phone calls and/or text messages to chase accused file-sharers. Rightscorp would subpoena a suspected infringer’s contact details from their ISP, write to that suspected infringer demanding they stop infringing and pay a fine for past infringement, and then follow up the letter with calls or texts demanding the recipient respond.

Two of the people targeted with such correspondence – both of whom denied the allegations of copyright infringement made against them – said that Rightscorp had “wilfully violated” the US Telephone Consumer Protection Act with the calls and texts. Because, their lawsuit added, the law requires companies to have a recipient’s consent before making automated calls or sending texts.

Had the lawsuit prevailed in court, Rightscorp could have faced paying damages between $500 and $1500 to each person who received calls or texts without permission, and there were over 2000 members of the class once the legal action gained momentum.

But the case won’t now proceed to court, because Rightscorp has agreed to settle. And while neither the anti-piracy firm nor those clients also named as defendants admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, Rightscorp agrees to stop using automated calls or texts without a recipient’s permission, while setting aside $450,000 to cover the costs of the litigation to date and to pay $100 to each class member.

Those class members will have to declare that they didn’t infringe any of Rightscorp clients’ copyright works as part of the settlement. By doing so, said clients will drop any outstanding copyright claims against each class member, so they won’t face any further demands for payment from the rights owners.

Both parties filed settlement papers with the courts late last week, which included details of a claims process for class members seeking their $100.