Faceless internet service provider Comcast takes a lot of heat for poor customer service and high prices. But what can you do when the interests of the business and the consumer are so often at odds? Well, in an Illinois courtroom this week, Comcast was on the side of the little guy, but maybe for its own reasons. Comcast has successfully blocked an effort to sue dozens of users accused of BitTorrent piracy.
In recent years, copyright holders have started filing mass P2P lawsuits, wherein dozens, or even hundreds of defendants are named by IP addresses. The copyright holder gets the addresses from a torrent swarm that is hosting its content, but it needs the ISPs to translate that number into a real person that can be sued. The practice was pioneered by the makers of the award-winning film The Hurt Locker. The courts have been happily passing subpoenas along to ISPs all this time, but now Comcast has had enough.
It takes time and money to process these court ordered requests for information, and the volume of lawsuits is staggering. Hundreds of thousands of IP addresses have been added to these lawsuits. When Comcast or another ISP hands over user information, the copyright holder uses that to seek an out of court settlement. None of the cases have gone to court, which Comcast used to argue against the subpoena.
Comcast cited the intimidation tactics employed by the copyright holders, many of which produce adult content, as a rationale for blocking the subpoena in this newest case. Comcast successfully argued to the judge that these lawsuits are being used as a “shakedown” operation to force settlements. Like other similar cases, according to Comcast, the plaintiff simply wanted personal details and had no intention of going to court.
The judge sided with Comcast and quashed the subpoena. The case associated with it was also dismissed, much to the chagrin of AF Holdings, the plaintiff in this case. It’s unclear if Comcast will continue to oppose these lawsuits, but plaintiffs might not bother going after Comcast subscribers at all in the future based on this outcome.
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