Tag Archives: cable act

Copyright Going Insane — How The Fight Between the Online Content Providers (ISPs) and TV Networks Are Affecting Our Bittorrent Piracy Lawsuits

I am always hesitant to write articles which are not relevant to the reason you are here. Very simply put, you and I are fighting against the production companies (the “copyright trolls”) who hire Intellectual Property (“IP”) Enforcement Companies and “copyright troll attorney” law firms who turn around and hire local counsel (your “Doug McIntyres, Joseph Pereas, and Mike Meiers” of the world) who sue defendants on behalf of their bosses to shake down internet users (regardless of whether they actually did the bittorrent downloads or not) to extort thousands of dollars “or else they will move forward in a copyright litigation lawsuit against that individual John Doe Defendant.” This is *our* fight.

However, there is a bigger fight looming in the courts, and our so-called “piracy” lawsuits are getting influenced by their headwinds — there is a brewing fight between 1) the CONTENT DISTRIBUTORS (e.g., the cable companies, the ISPs, and streaming content providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and now Amazon Prime), and 2) the CONTENT CREATORS (e.g., the television networks and movie, film, and production companies) who produce the films that the ISPs share with you, sometimes for a fee or a premium membership. Where it is impacting us is the strange and recent “out-of-place” rulings in our cases discussing the applicability of the Cable Act to ISPs. It appears that the judges want the ISPs and the CONTENT DISTRIBUTORS to fall under the Cable Act.

This morning, I read an ArsTechnica article written by New York Law School Professor James Grimmelmann entitled “Why Johnny can’t stream: How video copyright went insane,” which skillfully goes through the recent changes in the evolving application of copyright law from the creation of VHS and VCRs to today’s digital age of DVRs and more recently, Cablevision’s own DVR-RS (remote streaming — “DVRs in the cloud”) technology.

The ultimate issue which everyone is tiptoeing over is simply, “can an internet user download, share, stream, view, or save copyrighted content on their computers (or in their computer’s memory) and not be in violation of the copyright laws?” I suspect the answer will eventually be “yes,” but the law has a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of people like you and me will be sued in the process. This sounds scary, but this is the bigger fight we are in the middle of with our bittorent piracy lawsuits.

In the ArsTechnica article, it appears as if there is a circle of corporate parties fighting to capture the dollar of the internet user. The TV networks create and copyright the movies and the videos they produce, and the cable companies, the ISPs, and the online streaming companies pay extensive licensing fees to the TV networks in order to provide that TV show or that movie to their paying subscribers (and the advertisers who subsidize when subscribers view “free” content). The problem is that as a particular show (in my case, Stargate SG-1 which was pulled from Netflix a few weeks ago without explanation) gets popular, more people view and subscribe to the cable companies’ and online streaming companies’ websites to view the film. The problem is that as shows get more popular and the content distributors make more money from their subscriptions and their advertisers, the TV networks and content creators increase the licensing fees they demand from the cable companies and online streaming companies to erase their profits (and quite often to grossly unfair amounts). As a result, the cable companies and online streaming companies simply pull the show from the list of shows they offer their subscribers, and everyone loses. No TV show is being shown, the online content providers lose subscribers who go elsewhere, the advertisers don’t pay their advertising dollars (products that would be shown in the ads do not get sold) and the TV networks lost their licensing fees. Quite frankly, it is my opinion that this is where piracy kicks in, where users share with others shows that they cannot find online through normal streams of commerce without an outright purchase of a particular season at retail prices — in other words, the internet user loses as well.

In my opinion, the ArsTechnica article is more than a history lesson on copyright as its application to the everyday viewer has evolved over the years as the internet and technology has advanced, but it also discusses the absurdity of the “hoops” that cable companies and other start-ups are jumping through in order to be in strict compliance with the draconian copyright laws. Really? 10,000 tiny antennas so that a cable company does not infringe a TV network’s copyright [when ONE ANTENNA would serve exponentially more viewers at a dramatically LOWER COST to both the cable company AND the viewer]? This is where the laws are interfering with technology (think eating wet glue), and I have a problem with this.

As to the applicability of the cable companies (the “cable operators”) and the internet service providers (“ISPs”), I understand that these smaller-case Cable Act rulings in our cases have nothing to do with our problem, but with the fight between the cable companies, the ISPs, and the television networks. Cable companies have clear regulations as to where they fit within the Cable Act and the FCC’s rules. ISPs however are not so clear, and the water gets muddied when one skilled in telecommunications law compares the rules governing an ISP run by a cable company (e.g., Cablevision, or Xfinity run by Comcast, or Roadrunner run by Time Warner Cable, etc.) and the rules governing an ISP which provides their DSL, satellite (e.g., Dish Network), or fiber optic (e.g., Verizon “Fios”) who use means to allow users to view content other than through a coaxial cable. THE RELEVANCE OF THIS WHOLE FIGHT APPEARS TO BE OVER THE EVER-SKYROCKETING LICENSING FEES PAID TO THE TELEVISION NETWORKS, AND THE CABLE COMPANIES AND ISPs WHO ARE TRYING TO FIND WAYS NOT TO PAY THEM.

I understand that this should help you understand the headwinds which are affecting our cases, and while it is not relevant to the outcome of whether Hard Drive Productions, Inc. or West Coast Productions, Inc. sues thousands of internet users, or whether Malibu Media, LLC (a.k.a., “x-art”) has an unfair strategy in hooking internet users who download one torrent file (a bittorrent “siterip”) and are sued for twenty copyrighted films (even though they probably never downloaded them all in their entirety), it is still interesting to know that judges adjudicating the fight between the television networks and the ISPs are using our small lawsuits to plant case law which I suspect in the coming months and years will become relevant in the fight over licensing fees and which content provider has to pay them.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

New Florida Rule: CABLE OPERATORS WHO ARE ALSO ISPs ARE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT.

Umm… Did Judge Wilson just suggest that ISPs fall under the CABLE ACT??

I was just reading DieTrollDie’s article, and looking at Judge Wilson’s ruling [in the Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1-18 (Case No. 8:12-cv-01419) case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida], it appears as if he just suggested that ISPs fall under the CABLE ACT (See Order, Doc 14, p. 5 of 7).

ORDER: …3. Each of the ISPs that qualify as a “cable operator” under 47 U.S.C. 522(5) shall comply with 47 U.S.C. 551(c)(2)(B), which provides that:

A cable operator may disclose [personally identifiable information] if the disclosure is … made pursuant to a court order authorizing such disclosure, if the subscriber is notified of such order by the person to whom the order is directed.”

Now many of you know that I have wrapped my head around the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (a.k.a., “the Cable Act”) so many times, and it surprises me that now TWO judges have suggested that a law written in 1984 applies to the internet (which was not even in existence at the time the Cable Act was written).

As we discussed on Monday in the “Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act” article, 1) DC Judge Facciola argued whether an ISP would violate the Cable Act by sharing subscriber information. He concluded that assuming arguendo that the Cable Act did apply [noting that DC has not yet ruled on the issue of whether the Cable Act applies to ISPs], that Cablevision would not violate the statute if it complied with the copyright troll’s subpoena. Now, we have 2) Judge Wilson explicitly ordering “each of the ISPs that qualify as a “cable operator” under the Cable Act to comply with the subpoena.

In its essence, the Florida Middle District just ruled that ISPs WHO ARE ALSO CABLE OPERATORS ARE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT STATUTES.

This is fascinating to me (especially since these judges would be going against significant case law from other districts stating that the Cable Act does NOT apply to ISPs) because it appears as if Judges are trying to corner the ISPs into the confines of the Cable Act (which makes my May 5, 2011 argument of how to sue ISPs for violating the Cable Act possibly viable). I have not even considered the MANY IMPLICATIONS of what happens if — as a rule — ISPs became bound by the Cable Act provisions? What else would change?

Looking at this logically, it makes sense to me that an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) can be a “cable operator” bound under the Cable Act. Why? Because cable companies (Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon, etc.) *ALL* have taken a HUGE SHARE of the internet subscriber business. Cable companies today offer internet services to their subscribers. Thus, it makes sense that an ISP can be a “cable operator,” and thus they can be bound by the Cable Act.

After all, if hypothetically a huge oil company such as Exxon started selling their Esso Tiger toy dolls (remember these?), wouldn’t they also be obligated to the laws that govern child safety laws regarding lead paint? How can an ISP say “we’re no longer a cable operator, we’re an ISP” when the same customer who pays for their internet connection pays them for their cable service?

In other words, I am starting to form the opinion that CABLE COMPANIES SOLICITED INTERNET BUSINESS AND BECAME ISPs. THEY ARE STILL CABLE COMPANIES AND THEIR SERVICES SHOULD STILL BE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT WHICH GOVERNS CABLE COMPANIES.

Wow, this is a can of worms.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act.

These old cases keep creeping back up on us, and I am quite frankly dumbfounded that they are still alive so many months later. In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01883) case in the District of Columbia, Judge Facciola brought back to life what was a stale, dormant case by answering an unanswered question of whether it would violate the Cable Act if Cablevision complied with the subpoenas and shared subscriber information with the copyright trolls.

Cablevision’s argument resembled a failed argument which I posted on my blog in May, 2011 for literally a day before puling it from the website.

[FOR PURPOSES OF CLARITY, I was writing two years ago about whether you can sue an ISP based on the Cable Act.  Then, I was referring to subsection (f) of the statute; here, Cablevision is referring to subsection (c) of the statute, asserting that the “checklist” of requirements under the Cable Act was not met and thus the subpoena was defective and they didn’t have to comply.]

More than two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “How an attorney can sue an ISP for disclosing a subscriber’s information“. In that article, I stated that a John Doe Defendant could possibly sue his ISP for violating the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (better known as the “Cable Act”). Shortly after writing the article, however, I did further research into the matter and I found that there was a significant amount of case law which held that this statute DID NOT APPLY TO ISPs. Apparently, however, I am not the only attorney who stumbled upon this statute.

In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 case, Cablevision asserted that according to the Cable Act (47 U.S.C. §551(c)(2)(B)), they would violate the statute if they complied with the subpoena issued to it (which makes me wonder why they have been complying in other cases since). On Friday, Judge Facciola disagreed simply because regardless of what the Cable Act says, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) simply gives the court the power to force the ISPs to comply with the subpoenas, and the Cable Act is irrelevant to the issue. (Personal note: A judge can’t throw away a statute that conflicts with the rules! They must address the law and explain why it DOES or DOES NOT apply to the circumstances. They can’t ignore it and pretend the statute is not there!)

In short, the last time I took a look at this argument, I came to the conclusion that it was a very muddy issue. Anyone who wants to have a crack at this, please feel free to comment. I’m merely posting this article so that you understand what argument Cablevision was trying to assert, and why Judge Facciola ruled against it.

Once again, I feel that Judge Facciola didn’t properly address the issue of whether the Cable Act applied to copyright infringement statutes (and particularly to these bittorrent cases where his court has been ruling that John Doe defendants do not have standing to file motions to quash until they are “named” as defendants). In my opinion, Cablevision brought before the court the Cable Act statute, specifically, “47 USC §551 – Protection of subscriber privacy,” subsection “(c) Disclosure of personally identifiable information.” I keep asking myself, “how in the world does this NOT apply to our cases?!? (and if this does not apply, what statute does apply?)” EVEN THE CABLEVISION ISP ITSELF (a cable company) THOUGHT IT APPLIED TO THEM!

In sum, Cablevision brought before the court an issue — “how can I comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when this statute prohibits me from doing so?” At the very least, Judge Facciola should have ruled on whether the statute applies to these cases because instead, he said, “assuming it does apply, here’s why your argument is wrong.” My question is immediately, “assuming it does apply?!?WHAT?!? WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE OTHER PARTS OF THE STATUTE? DO THEY APPLY TO ISPs TOO?

As a result of this ruling, Judge Facciola has reopened a copyright troll case that until now was pretty much in a coma.  As far as this Openmind Solutions, Inc. case is concerned, expect now to start getting subpoenas from Prenda Law Inc. because once again, Judge Facciola has sided with the copyright trolls and has let the extortion scheme continue.

…And as far as the Cable Act and 47 USC § 551? Judge Facciola has just opened up a can of worms.

[For those of you who want to read the statute on your own, it can be found at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/551 ]

As far as the two documents which caused this mess, the original motion requesting that the judge rule on Cablevision’s motion applying the Cable Act to bittorrent lawsuits can be found here.

And, Judge Facciola’s ruling (the subject of this article) can be found here.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

How an attorney can sue an ISP for disclosing a subscriber’s information. [ARTICLE PULLED]

*** AUGUST 30TH, 2012 UPDATE: Judge Thomas Wilson of the Middle District of Florida just suggested that Cable Operators who are also ISPs could be bound by the Cable Act. ***

*** AUGUST 27TH, 2012 UPDATE:  Because of Judge Facciola’s ruling in the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01883) DC case, I pasted (below) the original article from 5/2011.  Related article is  “Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act.” ***

Dear Readers,

This morning I posted an article about how it may be possible to sue internet service providers for the disclosure of subscribers’ private information pursuant to a subpoena from an expedited discovery order.

I have since pulled the article because the arguments as I described them would likely not hold up in the courts. The statutes I referenced dealt with government entities seeking subscriber information for the purposes of prosecuting criminal acts. In our John Doe cases, the plaintiffs seeking subpoenas are not government entities.

What fascinated me about the arguments from a purely legal perspective was that the same activity of disclosing private subscriber information while once legal would have over time become illegal based on activities in the courts and would have even subjected the ISPs to civil liability simply for changed circumstances.

In short, part of being your attorney is not only playing the part, but seeking out and testing new applications for statutes and making new arguments in the courts which have not yet been addressed by the current case law or the statutes. This argument will not work. The next one might.

*** AUGUST 27TH, 2012 UPDATE***

Because this issue became relevant in Judge Facciola’s ruling against Cablevision in the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01883) case in the District of Columbia, I am reprinting the article that I pulled under the condition that readers understand that this was a legally unsound argument. I am merely posting it here for INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY. As readers will note, 1) the statute does not apply to our circumstances, and 2) there is an abundance of case law which states that the Cable Act does not apply to ISPs (although DC never ruled on this issue).

Law can sometimes be dry, but once in a while, it can provide a sweet and juicy protection for those dealing with copyright infringement claims.

It appears to me as if there might be a way to stop the ISPs from handing out subscriber information to the plaintiff attorneys who have been incessantly using expedited discovery motions to gain subscriber information for the purpose of extorting money from them as defendants in these John Doe copyright infringement lawsuits.

Whenever a defendant receives a subpoena, if he or she calls their ISP, they will likely say, “file a motion to quash or else we will be forced to comply with the subpoena.”

However, as soon as they do file the motion to quash, the plaintiff attorneys have been claiming in their motions opposing almost each and every motion to quash that “so-and-so filed a motion to quash; so-and-so has never been named in this lawsuit and is thus not yet a party to the action. So-and-so thus does not have standing to file this motion to quash and so the court should deny his motion to quash.”

READ THIS CLOSELY.

47 U.S.C. 551, entitled “Protection of subscriber privacy,” apparently provides a remedy to this issue. The statute states that the ISPs can disclose private subscriber information only if the accused defendant is given “the opportunity to appear and contest” the plaintiff’s claim [e.g., in a motion to quash].

However, if we consider what plaintiffs have been saying to the courts for many months now, (e.g., that unnamed John Does do not have standing to file motions to quash because they are not parties to the action), then this would indicate that accused defendants are NOT given the opportunity to “appear and contest” their being hauled into court to defend a copyright infringement lawsuit. Plaintiff attorneys joke about this regularly stating that few (if any) motions to quash have ever been successful.

ISPs should be put on notice of this fact by attorneys defending John Doe defendants, because 47 USC 551(f) allows any person aggrieved by this statute to sue the ISP in a US District Court. If sued, the ISP can be found liable for actual damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs if they are found to be in violation of this statute.

Once we confirm that this is a viable argument, for those defendants who have been aggrieved by the ISPs’ unauthorized disclosure of their information and have been subjected to unnecessary harassment, settlement costs, or attorney fees in defending such a copyright infringement lawsuit, perhaps this might be a way to right a wrong that so many have suffered.

While we will obviously need to research this statute further to determine whether this can actually be used to stop or deter ISPs in the future from disclosing subscriber information to plaintiff attorneys in copyright cases, for now it appears to be a promising argument that I will bring to their attention. As with any other posting on this site, this article is not to be taken as legal advice and is the editorial of the author, and no representations have been made as to future acts that may be taken by the Firm.

[ONCE AGAIN, I PULLED THIS ARTICLE SHORTLY AFTER POSTING IT BECAUSE THE ARGUMENTS WERE UNSOUND. I AM SIMPLY POSTING IT HERE TO GIVE A BIT OF BACKGROUND ON WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE OPENMIND SOLUTIONS, INC. CASE WITH JUDGE FACCIOLA AND CABLEVISION’S REJECTED ARGUMENT.]