Verizon Wireless is facing a lawsuit filed by a group of adult movie companies for protecting alleged BitTorrent pirates. They claim that the Big Red's refusal to hand over personal details via court-ordered subpoenas is more than an attempt to protect its customers – it's to protect profits generated from BitTorrent infringements.
Verizon's reluctance to hand over personal details in John Doe witch hunts isn't anything new – the company has clearly expressed that IP addresses linked to copyright infringement doesn't necessarily mean the subscriber is the one breaking the law. Verizon follows the latest trend that anyone accessing the wireless network could be held accountable, but it's impossible to narrow it down to just one individual. Is it the family's son? The leeching neighbor next door?
Unfortunately, in many cases, the consumer associated with a specific IP address is the one who gets sued even though he/she may not be guilty. This is how the RIAA and MPAA has scared millions out of Americans over the years, threatening to sue for millions if the accused doesn't settle for a lesser amount.
Up until now, Verizon doesn't play that game, refusing to fork over information that could allow for the "harassment" of its customers. "[The subpoena] seeks information that is protected from disclosure by third parties’ rights of privacy and protections guaranteed by the first amendment,” Verizon's counsel informed the copyright holders in a recent case.
Fed up with Verizon's stance, Malibu Media, Patrick Collins and Third Degree Films have filed a complaint against the company at a federal court in Texas, asking the court to hold the Big Red in contempt and force Verizon into answering the subpoenas.
"Verizon objects to the subpoenas on various grounds, all of which lack merit," the lawsuit states. "Accordingly, Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court overrule each of Verizon’s objections, compel immediate compliance with Plaintiffs’ subpoenas and hold Verizon in contempt for failing to obey the subpoenas."
The complaint goes on to describe Verizon's refusal as an act in bad faith, that the company expects to continue to profit from BitTorrent infringement "at the expense of other, lower-tier ISPs and the consuming public at large." There are no incentives for ISPs like Verizon to aggressively identify infringers on their network, and said ISPs and their cohorts allegedly even enjoy virtual immunity from liability under the DMCA and other laws.
"This scenario presents multiple concerns of fairness and accountability," the lawsuit states.
Verizon is one of many who have chosen to participate in the Copyright Alert System plan which will send warnings to customers who download pirated content from peer-to-peer networks. Verizon plans to throttle the more stubborn downloaders, but only temporary. At no point will an alleged user's information be handed over for legal purposes.
"We believe this program offers the best approach to the problem of illegal file sharing and, importantly, is one that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers. It also provides a mechanism for helping people to find many great sources of legal content,” Verizon said.