Cox Communications was found liable for the piracy infringement of more than 10,000 musical works by a U.S. District Court jury in Virgina on Thursday (Dec. 19), awarding $1 billion statutory damages to plaintiffs Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and EMI.
The labels and their publishing entities filed the lawsuit in July 2018, accusing the cable and internet service provider of turning a blind eye to pirates on its network. They alleged that Cox “deliberately refused to take reasonable measures” to combat copyright infringers, even after the company became aware of specific acts of infringement by its customers.
Cox was also accused of imposing an “arbitrary cap” on the number of infringement notices it would accept from copyright holders — thereby allowing said infringement to continue — and of failing to permanently terminate customers who were found to have pirated. The complaint noted that at least 20,000 Cox subscribers could be categorized as repeat infringers.
Cox was found guilty of infringment claims on 10,017 pieces of work — the full amount charged by plaintiffs — and fined $99,830.29 per work.
“Today’s victory on behalf of music publishers and record labels who own over 10,000 copyrights is a clear message to ISPs like Cox who refuse to take responsibility for infringers on their networks,” said National Music Publishers Association president and CEO David Israelite in a statement provided to Billboard. “The jury found that Cox was liable for its subscribers’ infringement to the tune of $1 billion dollars which serves as a warning to those who willingly turn a blind eye and enable their users to share music illegally. Cox received hundreds of thousands of notices of infringement and did not adequately respond or comply with its obligations to stop its subscribers from infringing on peer to peer networks. Cox had the right and ability to prevent the continued harm to music creators and it chose its own profits over complying with the law.”
In a statement, RIAA chief legal officer Kenneth L. Doroshow added, “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message — Cox and other ISPs that fail to meet their legal obligations to address piracy on their networks will be held accountable. The jury recognized these companies’ legal obligation to take meaningful steps to protect music online and made a strong statement about the value of a healthy music ecosystem for everyone — ranging from creators to fans to the available outlets for legitimate music consumption.”
Cox also released a statement to Billboard: “We are disappointed in the court’s decision. The amount is unjust and excessive. We plan to appeal the case and vigorously defend ourselves. We provide customers with a powerful tool that connects to a world full of content and information. Unfortunately, some customers have chosen to use that connection for wrongful activity. We don’t condone it, we educate on it and we do our best to help curb it, but we shouldn’t be held responsible for the bad actions of others.”
The copyright suit against Cox follows a previous one lobbed against the ISP by BMG, which was awarded $25 million in damages by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2015. That decision was reversed on appeal in early 2018 and ordered for a retrial, though Cox subsequently paid out a “substantial” settlement to BMG before a new trial could commence.
Over the past several years, record labels and publishers have grown increasingly diligent about targeting ISPs in an attempt to squelch copyright infringement. In March, more than 50 music companies filed suit against Charter Communications — which does business under the name Spectrum — alleging that the company refused to clamp down on its customers’ infringement activity even after becoming aware of “specific, repeated” acts of infringement and ignoring statutory infringement notices from copyright holders. In August, a similar lawsuit was filed against internet service provider RCN Corporation for taking no “meaningful action to curb … ongoing theft.”
Since 2017, Texas-based ISP Grande Communications has been engaged in a legal tussle with the RIAA, which has similarly accused that company of failing to crack down on copyright pirates.