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US ISP goes to court for another clarification on safe harbours

By | Published on Thursday 16 June 2016


US-based tel co RCN has gone to court to again question the liabilities, or not, of internet service providers for any copyright infringement that occurs on their networks.

This has been of much debate over the years, of course, with ISPs generally claiming protection from liability under those often controversial safe harbours which, in America, come from Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The safe harbours say that internet firms are not liable if and when their users distribute content over their networks without licence, providing a system is in place via which rights owners can demand such illegal distribution is stopped.

The last big case on this issue swung in the music industry’s favour, with another US net firm – Cox Communications – being held liable for its pirating customers because it was shown the ISP often paid only lip service to its own anti-piracy polices.

That case was pursued by BMG alongside its anti-piracy agency Rightscorp. And it’s those two entities that RCN now has a problem with. The ISP disputes allegations made by the music rights firm, while also hitting out at the practices of Rightscorp, criticising its monitoring techniques, the flood of notices it sends to internet providers, and the letters it demands are forwarded on to suspected copyright infringers.

According to Torrentfreak, RCN writes “both BMG and Rightscorp are wrongly demanding payment from RCN for … alleged infringement, and have clearly expressed their intention to enforce these purported rights”, before adding: “The central question for this court’s determination is whether an internet service provider should be held liable for copyright infringement simply because it provides internet connectivity to its customers”.

The net firm wants the court to confirm that its interpretation of the DMCA is correct, and BMG and Rightscorp’s claims against RCN are without merit, even if they do have a case for copyright infringement against some RCN customers. “BMG’s repeated assertions that RCN is liable for copyright infringement lack merit”, writes the ISP. “RCN therefore seeks a judgment from this court declaring that it is not liable to BMG for copyright infringement”.

Following last year’s Cox ruling, both rights owners and ISPs will watch with interest which way the New York court rules on this one.