Cox Communications won’t have to pay $1 billion to record labels after all

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In the seemingly endless fight between record labels and ISPs over music piracy, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia decided Tuesday that $1 billion is too much for Cox Communications to pay record labels in damages. Instead, as reported by Reuters, a new trial should be set in a federal district court to figure out what would be an appropriate amount.

This new ruling overturns a 2019 US district court jury’s decision siding with the record labels involved in the lawsuit, which includes Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and EMI. The companies accused Cox of not addressing over 10,000 copyright infringement notices and failing to take action against music pirates, such as cutting off their broadband access. But the circuit court reversed the damages, noting that Cox “did not profit from its subscribers’ acts of infringement,” a legal prerequisite for part of the liability.

This is not the first time Cox Communications has tried to appeal that $1 billion judgement, but it is the first time it has been successful. Cox previously asked a federal court in Virginia to lower the damages or give it a new trial. When that court said no, the ISP filed a motion with a district court in Colorado claiming Sony fabricated evidence to obtain a favorable verdict.

The evidence in question was used in another music copyright infringement case against another ISP, Charter, and Cox sought to prove that evidence was created years after the music companies claimed it was illegally downloaded over Cox’s network. However, this allegation was not mentioned in the circuit court’s opinion Tuesday.

Neither music companies nor ISPs have been able to do much to stop repeat pirates; both parties mutually decided to end their Copyright Alert System partnership (known as the “six strikes” rule) in 2017 after it failed to significantly reduce illegal music and video downloads. The system was successful at getting internet users who infrequently pirated copyright material, but it didn’t do anything against the ones who consistently pirated material.

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