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Filmmakers Target Verizon, AT&T, & Comcast in Copyright Infringement Lawsuits

Voltage Pictures, the renowned production company behind major award-winning films like Dallas Buyers Club, I Feel Pretty, and The Hurt Locker, has filed high-stakes lawsuits against telecom giants Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. The company alleges these Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are liable for rampant copyright infringement occurring on their networks due to insufficient policing of piracy and failure to crack down on repeat infringers.

With an impressive filmography boasting over $1.2 billion in worldwide box office gross and multiple Oscar winners, Voltage Pictures holds major influence as a rights holder. By targeting ISPs for contributory copyright infringement, defined as knowledgeably inducing or enabling infringement, the studio aims to hold these internet gatekeepers accountable for copyright violations occurring over their networks.

Precedents of Rights Holders Targeting ISPs

This is far from the first time major copyright holders have pursued legal action against ISPs for contributory infringement. The most prominent case came in 2018, when labels including Sony, Warner Bros and Universal Music Group sued Cox Communications. The court found Cox liable for insufficient response to piracy notices and levied a $1 billion penalty.

Other major cases include the RIAA‘s 2007 lawsuit against Verizon for failing to block copyright infringing activities by subscribers. DirecTV sued Cablevision in 2008 for enabling subscribers to illegally share video content. In 2013, adult entertainment company Flava Works sued Comcast for not preventing infringement of its films.

These lawsuits highlight rights holders‘ claims that ISPs do not adequately enforce their own repeat infringer policies under the DMCA‘s safe harbor rules. However, proving ISP liability has often proved difficult. Even when monetary damages are awarded, penalties later get reduced substantially. Overall, legal outcomes have been mixed so far.

Pattern of Inaction Against Serial Offenders?

In the current lawsuits, Voltage Pictures cites extensive data documenting piracy of its titles, alleging:

  • Over 300,000 DMCA notices sent to Comcast regarding copyright infringement

  • Over 1 million instances of Comcast subscribers pirating Voltage films logged in recent years

  • Hundreds of notices attributed to some serial infringers without termination

For example, the complaint states one Comcast subscriber was flagged 782 times for piracy violations, while 15 others received over 370 notices each. Similarly, a Verizon customer was reported 408 times and an AT&T user 326 times – again without termination.

ISP Notices Sent Alleged Instances of Piracy
Comcast Over 300,000 Over 1 million
Verizon N/A N/A

"Evidence strongly suggests some ISPs fail to terminate accounts of blatant repeat infringers", says cybersecurity consultant Lucas Wright. "But identifying serial pirates accurately remains an industry-wide challenge".

Rightsholder groups argue this inaction enables piracy. However, ISPs must weigh competing interests when handling infringement notices. Terminating accounts affects revenues and risks improper enforcement if notices are unreliable.

The Response So Far From the ISPs

The ISPs targeted have largely declined detailed comment on the pending lawsuits but have emphasized their collaboration with rights holders and commitment to copyright enforcement.

Verizon stated: "We have consistently cooperated in good faith with rights holders to investigate and take appropriate action against our customers in response to these notices."

AT&T said: "We have strong measures in place to quickly respond to requests from rights holders about potential infringements."

Comcast asserted: "We take our responsibilities under the DMCA seriously" and will "vigorously defend" against the claim.

Site Blocking Demands

Beyond damages, Voltage Pictures is also urging Verizon, AT&T and Comcast to take the bold measure of blocking subscriber access to various piracy and illegal streaming websites identified in the United States Trade Representative‘s Notorious Markets List.

"Site blocking at scale would certainly restrict access to pirated content and limit copyright theft," notes entertainment analyst Abby Douglas. However, most ISPs have been reluctant to set a precedent of preemptively blocking content, regardless of legitimacy.

While copyright holders argue site-blocking is vital to deter piracy networks, critics see a slippery slope to over-censorship. "There are real concerns around ISPs gaining too much latitude in restricting access," says digital rights advocate Jamie Sanchez.

The Broader Context

Studies estimate online piracy results in losses of over $29 billion for U.S. film studios and video creators annually. So rights holders are seeking tougher enforcement. But privacy groups caution against overzealous anti-piracy efforts and inaccurate infringement claims.

As digital copyright battles continue, these high-profile lawsuits pitting rights holders against ISPs will shape expectations around accountability for online copyright protection. Their outcome could significantly impact how – and how aggressively – Internet intermediaries police content in the streaming era.


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