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US record industry wins $46.8 million in damages in latest ISP copyright case

By | Published on Friday 4 November 2022

Grande Communications

The US record industry has scored another big win against an American internet service provider that was accused of not doing enough to combat copyright infringement on its networks. A jury in Austin, Texas has concluded that Grande Communications should be held liable for the infringement of more than 1400 tracks by its customers. And it is being held liable to the tune of $46.8 million.

Grande is just one of a plethora of internet businesses that have been sued by copyright owners in either the music or movie industries in recent years. Those lawsuits all followed the big copyright ruling against ISP Cox Communications, which was initially sued by BMG and then later the major record companies.

Internet firms whose customers use their networks and servers to infringe copyright are usually protected from liability for that copyright infringement by the good old copyright safe harbour. However, to qualify for safe harbour protection, internet companies need systems in place to deal with infringing content and repeat infringers.

In the Cox case, it was shown that – while the ISP had policies for dealing with repeat infringers – it only paid lip service to those policies. Therefore it lost its safe harbour protection and became liable for its customers infringement. When the majors sued, those liabilities resulted in a billion dollars of damages.

Given the big pay out in the Cox case, other ISPs and internet businesses targeted with similar lawsuits were unsurprisingly keen to get them dismissed. That usually involved criticising the agencies that music and movie companies use to send in notices alerting them to copyright infringement, often arguing that those notices couldn’t be trusted.

After it was sued by the major labels in 2017, Grande tried very hard indeed to get that lawsuit dismissed. But without success. And – unlike with the also sued Charter Communications and Bright House Networks – no last minute out of court settlement was negotiated. Which meant the labels v Grande case arrived in court before a jury in early October.

That jury has now concluded that Grande is indeed liable for ’contributory copyright infringement’ because it didn’t do enough to deal with its infringing customers. And, in the words of the Recording Industry Association Of America, “federal law does not allow internet providers to be wilfully blind to online piracy on their networks – in this case, the jury found that internet provider Grande Communications failed to meet its legal obligations and was liable for wilful copyright infringement”.

RIAA boss Mitch Glazier adds: “This is the latest validation by US courts and juries that unchecked online infringement will not stand. The jury’s strong action here sends an important message to internet service providers. Artists, songwriters, rightsholders, fans and legitimate services all depend upon a healthy digital music ecosystem that effectively protects creative works online”.

Of course, compared to the $1 billion awarded in the Cox litigation, the $46.8 million in damages in this case seem pretty modest. But it’s still a decent pay day for the music industry. Cox is still appealing its judgement. It remains to be seen whether Grande does likewise.