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How much liability should VPN providers carry for BitTorrent copyright violations?

On Behalf of | Aug 27, 2021 | Bittorrent, Copyright Infringement |

In any era of cultural change, the American legal landscape reacts to the implications of these changes and the law eventually solidifies on the issues involved. It’s no different in the digital age. With the rapid growth of online digital technology, there are numerous legal implications that the legislature and the courts are working through as issues and cases arise.

In particular, copyright infringement using BitTorrent technology has become a major issue in our legal landscape. BitTorrent is an online tool for sharing digital files between users. The technology itself is legal, but it is often used to share music, movies and other copyrighted material. For years now, the owners of the copyrighted material have been bringing numerous lawsuits stemming from alleged copyright infringement, and to dissuade others from doing the same.

Who should be held liable?

Normally, these cases proceed by the copyright holder doing research to determine the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses associated with the alleged copyright infringement. This connects the copyright holders to the computers used to share the files. Then, the copyright holders subpoena the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to which the IP addresses are connected, in order to obtain the personal information of the IP address holders so they can bring the lawsuit against the individuals.

In some recent cases, the plaintiffs have been pushing to bring the ISPs in as defendants, to hold them liable for their part in the copyright violations. The plaintiffs’ claim, generally, is that the ISPs are allowing these violations of the rights of the copyright holders by employing intentionally ineffective security and prevention methods. Further, some claims have gone as far as saying that ISPs should be compelled to employ a “three strikes” policy, disallowing customers with three copyright violations from using their services.

A recent case and a new wrinkle

As reported by Torrent Freak online, Dallas Buyers Club LLC, Rambo V Productions and other associated filmmakers have joined in a lawsuit against Leaseweb USA, Inc.

Leaseweb is not an ISP; it is a VPN provider. A VPN is a virtual private network that people use to keep their IP addresses anonymous. After warning Leaseweb repeatedly of copyright violations by its VPN subscribers, the moviemakers are alleging that the VPN provider did nothing to take down those users to prevent further violations.

There are certainly some potential problems that could arise if ISPs and VPN providers start being held liable for the violations of the people paying for their services, which is one of the reasons this approach has yet to take root in our court system.

At any rate, this is an interesting development, and we will continue to watch to see how this plays out.

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