Can a VPN provider be held liable when its users illegally stream films and TV series? What if that provider markets itself as a way to avoid “threats and jail time” for illegal viewing? Those are the issues posed to a Florida federal judge in a suit involving the piracy of films starring Amy Schumer, Gary Oldman and Woody Harrelson.
Voltage Holdings, Millennium Funding and Hunter Killer productions on Thursday sued 1707 Management and its owner, Charles Muszynski, arguing they’re liable for users’ infringement of I Feel Pretty, Shock and Awe, Automata, Survivor and Hunter Killer.
The rights owners argue LiquidVPN, which they allege to be owned by Muszynski and 1707, is purposely friendly to copyright infringers — noting its practice of assigning anonymous IP addresses and marketing that touts how it makes piracy easier.
“The LiquidVPN Defendants actively promote their LiquidVPN Service for the purpose of movie piracy, including of infringing Plaintiffs’ Works,” states the complaint. “The LiquidVPN Defendants’ website includes a statement that their VPN service is the ‘Best VPN for Torrenting and P2P Filesharing today’ over the image of the notorious movie piracy website Pirate Bay.”
It continues, “The LiquidVPN Defendants further state, ‘Experience everything Popcorn Time has to offer in the United States and the UK. Except the risks’, ‘Stream Content Anonymously. Why bother risking complaints from your ISP, settlement demands, threats and jail time for streaming your favorite TV show.'”
After discovering the piracy, they sent notices of infringement that they allege were received by LiquidVPN after passing though multiple other companies. Those went ignored, and the rights holders argue the service isn’t protected by the safe harbor afforded to ISPs under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because it fails to terminate service for repeat infringers. It not only fails to take any action, according to the complaint, it brags about ignoring such notices on its site.
The rights owners are suing 1701 and Muszynski for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. They’re also suing the infringers themselves, a group of unnamed BitTorrent users who illegally uploaded or downloaded the films, for direct copyright infringement. They’re seeking an injunction that would restrain LiquidVPN from providing access to infringing material and encouraging users to pirate the content, as well as actual or statutory damages.