Combating copyright infringement on the internet must seem like an impossible task if you’re a rightsholder, whether you’re a solo creator or a major studio with a dedicated team. As it turns out, a system created for the dissemination of information and data, when turned towards copyrighted material, can spread those songs or images or films far and wide, making it next to impossible to track down every person who may have pirated that work. Such is the nature of the beast, and to try and undo it would be akin to putting the proverbial toothpaste back in the tube.
But because it is a problem, there must be someone for rightsholders to focus their ire upon, and the entities most frequently in that barrel are the internet service providers (ISPs) of the world. The charge frequently leveled is that ISPs aren’t doing enough to prevent their users from infringing upon copyrighted works — a charge repeated recently as record labels sued Charter Communications for the copyright infringement of its users.
It’s not the first time that these record companies have gone after Charter, and the allegations this time are much the same as they were the first time: that the plaintiffs lodged notices of copyright infringement instances with Charter, complete with IP addresses, only to have Charter do nothing about any of the provided notices or the alleged offenders on its service. Nor would it be the first time that Charter is found to be liable for the alleged infringement, as the 2019 case ended with a hefty $1 billion judgement against the service provider.
Here we run into what has become one of the thorniest issues of the day. ISPs like Charter (or, if we broaden the focus, social media platforms like Facebook) don’t want to put themselves on the hook for what people are doing with their service, leaving themselves open to further lawsuits or committed to devoting resources to the problem. Rightsholders recognize, perhaps correctly so, that going after thousands of people individually isn’t an efficient use of resources, and doesn’t do anything to address the root problem.
And so we arrive at an impasse. Rightsholders will continue to sue, and whatever judgments go against them Charter can appeal until they reach the outer end of the legal system in a few years’ time. Things may eventually have to change, but ISPs and others that may eventually be ruled to be responsible can forestall any such reckoning until past the point where changes matter, and those who violate the rules have moved on to a new way of distributing pirated material. In that way problems are left to linger beyond the point of repair.