Press Release

Public Knowledge Joins Amicus Brief Urging Court to Overturn Sony V. Cox Decision

June 2, 2021 , ,

Yesterday, Public Knowledge joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Library Association, Association of College and Research Libraries, and Association Of Research Libraries in filing an amici curiae brief in the 4th Circuit’s review of the Sony v. Cox lawsuit.

The brief explains that the Eastern District Court of Virginia misconstrued the law when it found that Cox was liable for secondary copyright infringement. The district court equated Cox’s inadequate termination process for cutting off repeat copyright infringers with secondary liability for copyright infringement — even though whether or not a broadband provider has a proper termination process has no bearing on whether or not an entity is secondarily liable for copyright infringement. A jury awarded $1 billion in statutory damages, the largest award of statutory damages for copyright infringement ever handed down.

If affirmed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, this ruling will set a dangerous precedent, causing broadband providers to cut off users more frequently, with less cause, in an effort to avoid the possibility of having to pay such hefty damages. This is particularly concerning as it could result in many Americans losing their only internet connection. There is little competition in the broadband industry; over one-third of Americans only have one broadband provider available to them.

The following can be attributed to Kathleen Burke, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“This case is about more than how one broadband provider handled its subscribers’ copyright infringing activity. It’s about the right of consumers to access the internet.

“Affirming Sony v. Cox will place a significant burden on broadband providers. It puts them in the position of either needing to monitor what a subscriber accesses using their internet connection, or terminating a subscriber’s connection if there is even the slightest concern that they have infringed on someone’s copyrighted content.

“What makes this even more complicated is that a broadband connection is not typically tied to a single user. Unlike social media platforms and other online communities, an internet connection is often used by many people. This is especially true for schools, businesses, hospitals, and other enterprises. If a user accesses one of these group connections and downloads infringing content, a broadband provider might opt to terminate the internet connection in lieu of risking liability for secondary copyright infringement. This would cut many innocent users off from the internet.

“By misconstruing the law regarding secondary copyright infringement, the district court has expanded protection against copyright infringement in a way that poses significant harm to the American public.”

You can view the brief here.