The first breach of copyright case against a VPN in the US
We’ve seen a lot of pirate websites experience the full brunt of copyright litigation in the past, but VPNs have spared any legal consequences. This is about to improve, though, when many filmmakers have filed two lawsuits against previous and existing owners of LiquidVPN, accusing them of encouraging and supporting piracy.
As noted by TorrentFreak, a collective of linked film productions whose films include “Automata” and “I feel pretty” have already taken legal action against file-shares and pirate pages. It is now going after Michigan native David Cox and his company SMR Hosting, which reportedly ran LiquidVPN until early 2019. The new owners are still sued: the Puerto Rican firm 1701 Management and its sole shareholder, Charles Muszynsky.
Although VPNs can make it more difficult to detect and monitor people’s online habits, they are generally classified as impartial services that are not responsible for the behaviour of their users. Yet film producers argue that LiquidVPN deliberately encourages its service “for the benefit of film piracy” and is thus “reliable for direct and contributory infringements of copyright and violations of DMCA.”
The complaint states that LiquidVPN’s website says that the service is the ‘Only VPN for Torrenting and P2P Filesharing today,’ an assertion that sits above the screenshot of The Pirate Bay. There is also a whole portion of the platform devoted to Popcorn Time, a free BitTorrent client app featuring an interactive media player.
“The LiquidVPN defendants further note, ‘Experience all Popcorn Time has to deliver in the United States and the United Kingdom. But for the risks,’ ‘Stream Content anonymously. Why bother risking the ISP’s grievances, settlement requests, threats and prison time for streaming your favourite TV programme,’ “Reads the case.
The plaintiffs claim damages of up to $150,000 for each pirated film, statutory damages of $25,000 for possible breaches of the DMCA, and other costs. They also want the defendants to “bar subscribers from accessing infamous websites for piracy,” to “block ports 6881-6889,” and to enact a scheme that “provides for the timely termination of subscribers who commit repeated infringements.”