Music labels suing broadband providers for customers’ music downloads – time to innovate!

In honor of Spring Break, I’m writing a different sort of post for me but it combines two part of my life – broadband and music. (I have a local music radio show.) It raises a lot of questions for me – but I think the answer is innovate or get left behind. And while this example focuses on the music industry, I think there are lots of folks wearing similar shoes. The people who use broadband to their advantage are most likely to prevail. That’s a lesson in and out of the music industry.

Ars Technica reports…

The music industry is suing Charter Communications, claiming that the cable Internet provider profits from music piracy by failing to terminate the accounts of subscribers who illegally download copyrighted songs. The lawsuit also complains that Charter helps its subscribers pirate music by selling packages with higher Internet speeds.

While the act of providing higher Internet speeds clearly isn’t a violation of any law, ISPs can be held liable for their users’ copyright infringement if the ISPs repeatedly fail to disconnect repeat infringers.

The top music labels—Sony, Universal, Warner, and their various subsidiaries—sued Charter Friday in a complaint filed in US District Court in Colorado. While Charter has a copyright policy that says repeat copyright infringers may be disconnected, Charter has failed to disconnect those repeat infringers in practice, the complaint said:

Charter is not the only provider that has run into issues with the music industry. Just the focus on this most recent article. I had to check the date on the article twice. It seemed like much of this was settled with Napster years ago but issues persist. Here’s what Ars Technica posts as the rules around the issue…

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ISPs cannot be held liable for Internet users’ copyright infringement if the ISPs “‘adopt and reasonably implement’ a repeat infringer policy that provides for termination of users’ accounts ‘in appropriate circumstances,'” an EFF explainer notes. But the law is vague enough that courts have had to interpret its meaning in various cases over the years.

In 2013, AT&T and other ISPs began using a “six-strikes” Copyright Alert System, working in conjunction with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The system ended up doing little to thwart copyright infringement and was shut down early last year.

Music publishers have called on ISPs to filter out pirated content, and they have filed various lawsuits against ISPs. Cox lost a jury verdict in a music piracy case in 2015. Another lawsuit involving Cox was settled last year, but Cox faces yet another lawsuit filed in August 2018.

In the Grande case, a federal judge this month ruled that Grande does not qualify for a legal safe harbor because of the ISP’s “complete abdication of [its] responsibilities to implement and enforce a policy terminating repeat copyright infringers.”

While ISPs have often resisted disconnecting alleged pirates, AT&T recently terminated the broadband service of more than a dozen customers who were accused multiple times of copyright infringement.

It’s too complicated for most music listeners to understand. If you can get a song you like, you get it. It’s like when I see a pirated video for sale at a garage sale. It’s illegal but lots of folks do it and I’m sure most are oblivious. The “most than a dozen” AT&T customers were probably egregious downloaders and understood the rule. But “more than a dozen” is a drop in the ocean.

To be fair, consumer should pay attention to laws. Providers should pay attention to customers known/suspected of criminal activity. But it’s the music industry that feels the pain here. They are likely the ones that need to innovate.

The flip side of broadband and the music industry is that it’s much easier now for musicians to record, release and promote music. A friend (Katy Vernon) just released a CD, spearheading much of her own promotion – to a sold out show and tons of publicity. There’s a leveling of the playing field.

Broadband is a disruptive technology. It’s all in how it’s harnessed. And as I spend my Spring Break talking to my college daughters about big “college” issues I think about the different industries, entrepreneurs and workers can innovate or spend their time fighting change.

This entry was posted in economic development, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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