Music labels win $46.7 mln from internet provider in piracy trial

Universal Music Group logo is seen displayed in this illustration. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
  • Astound's Grande Communications held responsible for user infringement
  • Record label plaintiffs previously won $1 billion from Cox in similar case

Nov 4 - Internet service provider Astound Broadband's Grande Communications Networks LLC must pay a group of music labels $46.7 million after its users pirated over 1,400 copyrighted works, a federal jury in Austin, Texas, decided Thursday.

Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Records and other labels convinced the jury that San Marcos, Texas-based Grande committed willful contributory copyright infringement by failing to act against subscribers who were repeat infringers.

An attorney for Grande did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The labels' attorney Andy Bart of Jenner & Block said in an email that they were "grateful that the jury recognized the critical role that ISPs play in addressing piracy."

Labels including Universal, Sony and Warner won a $1 billion verdict in a similar lawsuit against Cox Communications in Virginia in 2019. Cox's appeal of that verdict is still pending.

The labels have also sued several other ISPs for allegedly turning a blind eye to user piracy, including Frontier Communications, Charter Communications and RCN Corp.

Grande, which is now part of Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners' Princeton, New Jersey-based Astound, was sued by the labels in 2017. The lawsuit said the labels own rights to "the great majority" of recordings sold in the U.S. from some of the most popular musicians of all time, ranging from Michael Jackson to Pink Floyd to Tony Bennett.

According to the complaint, the labels sent Grande notices of "more than one million infringements" by thousands of subscriber accounts that pirated music through BitTorrent software. They accused Grande of failing to act in order to avoid losing revenue from infringing subscribers.

Grande told the court that it was "merely an internet service provider and never induced or encouraged anyone to infringe." It also argued the labels' notices were flawed and that their alleged damages were excessive.

The case is UMG Recordings Inc v. Grande Communications Networks LLC, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, No. 1:17-cv-00365.

For Grande: Richard Brophy of Armstrong Teasdale

For the labels: Andrew Bart of Jenner & Block

Read more:

Cox to pay $1 billion to music labels, publishers over piracy infringement

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com