Music companies hit internet service operator Altice USA with $1bn copyright infringement lawsuit

Credit: Sasun Bughdaryan

Internet service operator Altice, which owns the Optimum broadband and cable brand, has become the latest US IP to be hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit alleging multiple incidents of music piracy via its services.

Claimed to be one of the “largest connectivity providers in the US”, internet provider Altice USA has more than 5 million customers in 21 US states.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday (December 14) in Texas by a number of rightsholders, including BMG, as well as Universal Music, Capitol Records and Concord Music Group.

They’re suing Optimum’s owner over “millions” of alleged infringements of “thousands” of their songs.

The lawsuit claims that “through the provision of high-speed internet services, Altice has knowingly contributed to and earned substantial profits from, copyright infringement committed by thousands of its subscribers”.

It adds: “The infringement that Altice has abided, profited from, and materially contributed to has injured Plaintiffs, their recording artists and songwriters, and others whose livelihoods depend on the proper licensing of music and the ability to be fairly compensated for the use of their music and earn a living from their vocations.”

The claim, which you can read in full here, centers around the alleged illegal downloading of music via P2P platform BitTorrent by Altice’s customers.

According to the lawsuit, “the online piracy committed via BitTorrent is stunning in nature, speed, and scope” and that the “BitTorrent protocol enables a uniquely efficient means for facilitating illegal file sharing”.

BMG, UMG and Concord claim that using BitTorrent, Altice’s subscribers “have pirated many thousands of sound recordings and musical compositions that are protected by copyrights and equivalent rights owned by or exclusively licensed to Plaintiffs”.

They claim further that Altice, “has received over a million notices of infringement of Plaintiffs’ works by Altice subscribers” and that those notices concerned “close to 20,000” of Altice’s subscribers.

“Many of these are not just one-time offenders,” the filing adds. “They are chronic and repeat infringers.” Altice allegedly “turned a blind eye” after receiving those notices.

“The scope and volume of infringing activity taking place using the Altice services illustrates that, rather than terminating repeat infringers—and losing revenue attributable to those subscribers’ monthly fees — Altice simply looked the other way,” states the rightsholders claim.

It notes further that the law “is clear that a party that knowingly and materially assists someone engaging in copyright infringement faces liability for that infringement”.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages of up to $150,000 for each of the infringed works. The ‘Exhibit A’ document filed along with the claim, which you can view here, lists over 7,000, meaning damages sought by BMG, UMG and Concord could exceed $1 billion.

This latest case follows several other high-profile cases and settlements addressing infringement by subscribers using the services of internet providers including Grand Communications, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks/Charter.

In 2018, BMG settled a long-running copyright infringement case against the third biggest ISP in the US, Cox Communications, for a “substantial” sum.

That same year, Universal, Sony and Warner filed a lawsuit against the ISP, accusing it at the time of having “knowingly contributed to, and reaped substantial profits from, massive copyright infringement committed by thousands of its subscribers”.

In December 2019, a jury decided that the firm was liable for the infringement of over 10,000 music copyrights by its users and it was ordered to pay the labels over $99,000 for each of the 10,017 alleged works that were infringed – the equivalent of $1 billion in collective damages.

In August, a number of record labels, including Universal Music GroupWarner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment settled a copyright infringement lawsuit against US internet service provider Bright House Networks on the eve of a scheduled hearing in a Florida court.

In November, a federal jury in Austin ordered US telecommunications and internet provider Grande Communications to pay $46.7 million in damages to a group of record labels for infringement.Music Business Worldwide

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