Sony, Warner hit US internet provider Altice with $1.6bn lawsuit over alleged music piracy on its network

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Internet service provider Altice USA is facing another lawsuit from music rightsholders over its alleged enabling of widespread music piracy through its service.

Late last year, Altice was hit with a $1-billion lawsuit on behalf of music rightsholders including Universal Music Group, BMG, and Concord Music Group, who sought to have the internet provider held accountable for “millions” of alleged infringements of “thousands” of their songs.

That lawsuit is ongoing, after a judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas rejected Altice’s motion to dismiss the case earlier this year.

Now, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group have filed a similar lawsuit in the same US District Court, accusing Altice of “knowingly contribut[ing] to, and reap[ing] substantial profits from, massive copyright infringement committed by thousands of its subscribers.”

The complaint, filed on Thursday (December 7), lists in its Exhibit A and Exhibit B attachments over 6,700 sound recordings and 4,000 compositions respectively that were allegedly infringed by Altice subscribers using the BitTorrent protocol between 2020 and 2023.

The lawsuit cites the maximum statutory fine of $150,000 per alleged violation, implying that damages sought by the music companies from Altice USA could exceed USD $1.6 billion.

The complaint also notes that “the sound recordings listed on Exhibit A and the musical compositions listed on Exhibit B”  are “illustrative and non-exhaustive”.

“Despite receiving tens of thousands of notices from plaintiffs that detailed the illegal activity of its subscribers and despite its clear legal obligation to address the widespread, illegal downloading of copyrighted works on its Internet service, Altice enabled its subscribers to continue infringing plaintiffs’ copyrights with impunity through the continued provision of its high-speed Internet service to known repeat infringers,” states the complaint, which can be read in full here.

Altice is the fourth-largest ISP in the United States, serving nearly 5 million subscribers in 21 states through its Optimum brand. It’s majority-owned by Netherlands-based telecommunications firm Altice Europe NV. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and London-based investment firm BC Partners are minority shareholders.

More than 50 record labels and music publishers are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, all of them falling under the WMG or SME umbrellas. Among them are Warner-owned labels Atlantic Records, Bad Boy Records and Elektra, and Sony-owned labels Arista, Ultra Records and Zomba. Music publishers Warner-Chappell Music, Warner-Tamerlane, Sony Music Publishing and EMI are also named as plaintiffs.

The complaint alleges that “Altice’s contribution to its subscribers’ infringement is both willful and extensive, and it renders Altice equally liable for that infringement.”

It asserts that Altice “deliberately refused to take reasonable measures to prevent customers from using its internet services to infringe on others’ copyrights, including plaintiffs’ copyrights – even after Altice was put on notice of particular customers engaging in specific, repeated acts of infringement.”

The music companies involved sent “tens of thousands of statutory infringement notices to Altice, in addition to the millions of similar notices Altice received from other copyright holders.”

The complaint argues that Altice can’t hide behind the “safe harbor” provision in US copyright law, under which internet providers can claim immunity from copyright liability if they cooperate with rights holders in enforcing copyrights, because the telecom allegedly didn’t take any action against repeat infringers on its network.

“Altice routinely thumbed its nose at plaintiffs by continuing to provide service to subscribers it knew to be serially infringing plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings and musical compositions… Altice operated its service as an attractive tool and safe haven for infringement,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Altice routinely thumbed its nose at plaintiffs by continuing to provide service to subscribers it knew to be serially infringing plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings and musical compositions.”

Legal complaint against Altice USA

The complaint says that piracy of copyrighted content through the BitTorrent protocol “is stunning in nature, speed, and scope. Utilizing a BitTorrent client… persons connected to the internet can locate, access, and download copyrighted content from other peers in the blink of an eye. They download copyrighted music from other network users, usually total strangers, and end up with complete digital copies of any music they desire – without payment to copyright owners or creators”.

The complaint cites data from network intelligence company Sandvine showing that two of the most common BitTorrent clients, BitTorrent and uTorrent, have been downloaded and installed more than 2 billion times. In 2021, BitTorrent traffic accounted for nearly 3% of all internet traffic globally, Sandvine estimated.

The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of court cases in recent years, in which music rights holders have accused internet providers of turning a blind eye to music piracy on their networks.

In one noteworthy case in 2019, Cox Communications, another major US internet provider, was ordered to pay $1 billion in damages to Sony Music, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group in a case involving the infringement of more than 10,000 songs. Cox appealed that verdict, but the original verdict was upheld.

Another noteworthy case involved Charter Communications – with 29 million broadband subscribers as of 2021 – which was hit with a lawsuit in 2019 on behalf of numerous music rights holders, alleging the telecom had allowed unauthorized file-sharing between 2013 and 2016.

That case expanded in 2021, when Charter was hit with another, $400-million lawsuit, this one alleging copyright infringement between 2018 and 2021. Charter settled those cases out of court in 2022.

A number of smaller US ISPs have also faced copyright infringement suits over unauthorized file-sharing, including Grande Communications, a provider of internet services to university campuses in Texas. The telecom was ordered to pay $46.7 million in damages to major record companies in 2022.

The plaintiffs in the case against Altice are being represented by the law firm of Oppenheim + Zebrak LLP, with offices in New York and Washington, as well as the Texas-based Davis Firm, which is also involved in the earlier lawsuit against Altice.Music Business Worldwide

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