Next week marks the start of a crucial trial that may define how U.S. Internet providers deal with pirating subscribers in the future.
Internet provider Cox Communications is facing a lawsuit from BMG Rights Management and Round Hill Music, who accuse the company of failing to terminate the accounts of subscribers who frequently pirate content.
This week the court ruled on several requests and concerns about the upcoming trial. Several of these motions relate to Rightscorp, the company which sends out infringement notices with settlement demands for the rightsholders.
In previous filings Cox described Rightscorp as a copyright-trolling outfit that uses extortion and blackmail-like practices to pressure alleged pirates into settling. This language concerned the music companies, who asked the court to exclude it from trial.
This week Judge O’Grady agreed, ordering that Cox is prohibited from introducing irrelevant information about Rightscorp (pdf).
Among other things, the proposed order specifies that the Internet provider can’t reference Rightscorp’s business practices after 2011, including evidence from phone scripts or call recordings.
Rightscorp’s precarious financial position is also off-limits, as well as any allegations that the company violates debt collection or private investigation laws.
Finally, the aforementioned extortion and troll references are banned during trial as well.
“Defendants are prohibited from using derogatory terms such as ‘troll,’ ‘blackmailer,’ and ‘extortionist’ in reference to Rightscorp or Plaintiffs and are prohibited from using terms like ‘extortion’ or ‘blackmail’ to describe the companies’ communications or business practices,’ the order reads.
In addition to this order, Cox faced another setback.
The ISP previously asked the court to prevent the copyright holders from using any material claiming that BitTorrent equals piracy. According to Cox, BitTorrent has plenty of legitimate uses, but the motion was denied by Judge O’Grady.
On the upside, the court agreed with Cox that Rightscorp destroyed crucial evidence by deleting older versions of its piracy tracking code.
While this is not enough to dismiss the entire case, sanctions are appropriate and Cox is allowed to reference the destroyed evidence during its opening statement (pdf).
These new developments, as well as the earlier order declaring that Cox is not entitled to DMCA safe-harbor protections, show how much is at stake for both sides. The trial is expected to start in a few days and will be closely followed by other copyright holders and Internet providers.