Fighting Pirates – Copyright v. Privacy

The conflict between copyright enforcement and privacy has been one of the stumbling blocks in fighting online piracy. While proof of direct infringement by internet users is an essential element for action against online pirates, privacy of user data is an essential mandate to live and transact on the world wide web. Owing to privacy responsibilities of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), copyright holders find it very difficult, or impossible, to acquire details of internet users involved in downloading, uploading and sharing copyrighted content.

In the ongoing litigation between BMG and Round Hill (which manage music rights of Katy Perry, The Beatles etc.), and Cox Communications, an ISP, several questions with respect to extent of protection available to ISPs under the safe harbour provisions of copyright law are being raised. BMG and Round Hill have complained before the Court that more than 7 million instances of copyright infringement by more than 200,000 internet subscribers have been notified to Cox, but no action was taken by the ISP. While denying knowledge or control of the infringing actions, Cox is relying on its take down process. Cox had in fact not adopted the copyright alert and 6-strike program to control copyright piracy, which had shown appreciable results.

Recently, the complainants have demanded subscriber data with respect to specific IP addresses, the disclosing of which, Cox states, will violate privacy rights, prohibited under the Cable Privacy Act. This information is however crucial to prove direct infringement, and take down of content/users. It will be interesting to see if the Court will order disclosure of internet user data.

Whatever said and done, with the development of catch up technologies, it seems that the reign of free sharing and piracy is not far from being over.

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