Major labels and publishers hit Charter Communications with $400m+ copyright infringement lawsuit

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

US-based internet service provider Charter Communications has been hit with a seismic copyright infringement lawsuit.

Filed in Colorado last Monday (July 26) by major labels and publishers, including Universal Music Corp, Capitol Records, Universal Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music, and Sony Music Publishing, the suit accuses Charter of having “knowingly contributed to, and reaped substantial profits from, massive copyright infringement committed by thousands of its subscribers”.

Charter is one of the largest ISPs in the US, serving more than 29 million broadband customers in 41 states.

This case is related to an ongoing lawsuit captioned Warner Records Inc. et al. v. Charter Communications, Inc., which was filed in March 2019 and is presently pending between many of the same plaintiffs and Charter.

According to the new lawsuit, “Charter has insisted on doing nothing – despite receiving thousands of notices that detailed the illegal activity of its subscribers”.

In the original lawsuit from 2019, the plaintiffs, including Warner Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music and others, took issue with alleged illegal downloading by Charter customers via file sharing sites like BitTorrent between March 2013 and May 17, 2016.

They claimed that “Charter deliberately refused to take reasonable measures to curb customers from using its Internet services to infringe on others’ copyrights” and that the ISP’s “contribution to its subscribers’ infringement is both willful and extensive, and renders Charter equally liable”.

As first reported by TorrentFreak, Charter filed a motion to dismiss the suit and then countersued the labels for allegedly sending false DMCA takedown notices. These claims were dismissed by the court.

Separately, since then, another US ISP, Cox Communications, was ordered to pay Sony, Universal and Warner $1 billion in a copyright infringement ruling in December 2019, a decision that was upheld by a judge in January.

In the new lawsuit filed last week, which you can read in full here, the labels and publishers are claiming for infringement that was allegedly carried out by Charter subscribers between July 26, 2018 to present.

According to the claim, “many of Charter’s customers are motivated to subscribe to Charter’s service because it allows them to download music and other copyrighted content—including unauthorized content—as efficiently as possible”.

It adds: “Accordingly, in its consumer marketing material, including material directed to Colorado customers, Charter has touted how its service enables subscribers to download and upload large amounts of content at ‘lightning-fast’ and ‘blazing-fast Internet speeds’.”

The labels and publishers also argue that Charter knew that its subscribers “routinely used its networks for illegally downloading and uploading copyrighted works, especially music”.

They claim further that Charter was repeatedly notified that many of its subscribers were illegally downloading their content, and that those notices included “specific identities of its infringing subscribers, referred to by their unique IP addresses”.

In spite of receiving these notices, according to the companies suing Charter, the ISP “persistently turned a blind eye to the massive infringement” of their works.

More than 150,000 additional notices were allegedly sent to Charter.

“Charter condoned the illegal activity because it was popular with subscribers and acted as a draw to attract and retain new and existing subscribers.”


Adds the lawsuit: “Charter condoned the illegal activity because it was popular with subscribers and acted as a draw to attract and retain new and existing subscribers.

“Charter’s customers, in turn, purchased more bandwidth and continued using Charter’s services to infringe Plaintiffs’ copyrights.

“Charter undoubtedly recognized that if it terminated or otherwise prevented repeat infringer subscribers from using its service to infringe, or made it less attractive for such use, Charter would enroll fewer new subscribers, lose existing subscribers, and ultimately lose revenue.

It continues: “For those account holders and subscribers who wanted to download files illegally at faster speeds, Charter obliged them in exchange for higher rates. In other words, the greater the bandwidth its subscribers required for pirating content, the more money Charter made.”

Alongside the lawsuit, the labels and publishers have submitted two lists featuring allegedly infringed recordings and musical compositions, both of which they say are “illustrative and non-exhaustive”.

The sound recordings list (Exhibit A), which you can see for yourself here, features 1,719 entries, while the compositions list Exhibit B, which you can see here, features 1,086 entries.

The labels and publishers are seeking the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per each instance of alleged infringement, which means that, with the recordings and compositions combined, the total damages sought equates to 2,805 x $150,000, or at least $420 million.

Remember, those two lists are “illustrative and non-exhaustive”, so the total damages sought could be far greater.

Ads the lawsuit: “As a direct and proximate result of Charter’s willful infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrights, Plaintiffs are entitled to statutory damages, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), in an amount of up to $150,000 with respect to each work infringed, or such other amount as may be proper under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c).

“Alternatively, at Plaintiffs’ election, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(b), Plaintiffs shall be entitled to their actual damages, including Charter’s profits from the infringements, as will be proven at trial.”

 Music Business Worldwide