Appeals court overturns $1 billion copyright lawsuit against Cox

An appeals court has blocked a $1 billion copyright verdict from 2019 against US internet service provider Cox Communications and ordered a retrial, Arts Technica has reported. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that Cox didn’t profit directly from its users’ piracy, rebutting claims from Sony, Universal and Warner.

The judges did affirm the original jury’s finding of willful contributory infringement from the trial, first announced back in 2018. To that effect, they ordered a new damages trial that may reduce the size of the award.

“We reverse the vicarious liability verdict and remand for a new trial on damages because Cox did not profit from its subscribers’ acts of infringement, a legal prerequisite for vicarious liability,” the panel wrote. It added that “no reasonable jury could find that Cox received a direct financial benefit from its subscribers’ infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrights.”

Cox allegedly refused to take “reasonable measures” to fight piracy, according to the original allegations. Internet providers are supposed to terminate the accounts of offending users, but the ISP only conducted temporary disconnections and warned some users more than 100 times. The labels claimed it even instituted a cap on accepted copyright complaints and cut back on anti-piracy staffers.

However, the judges said that Sony offered no causal connection between infringement and higher revenues for Cox. “No evidence suggest that customers chose Cox’s Internet service, as opposed to a competitor’s, because of any knowledge or expectation about Cox’s lenient response to infringement.”

Under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and EU rules, ISPs enjoy “safe harbor” protections that shield them from liability for user actions. However, that only holds if they comply with specific requirements and address copyright violations promptly — and in this case, Cox didn’t do that, the judges said.

“The jury saw evidence that Cox knew of specific instances of repeat copyright infringement occurring on its network, that Cox traced those instances to specific users, and that Cox chose to continue providing monthly Internet access to those users… because it wanted to avoid losing revenue,” the ruling states. The case is now headed back to a US District court.

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