A trio of movie production companies filed an intellectual property and copyright lawsuit against VPN provider LiquidVPN as well as its current and previous owner. They believe the defendants consciously encourage and facilitate piracy.
Demand for A Jury Trial
Millennium Funding, Hunter Killer Productions and Voltage Holdings have sued 1701 Management and its current owner Charles Muszynski for profiting from piracy. The case was filed earlier this week in the US district court in the Southern District of Florida. In a separate case, they are also suing David Cox and his company SMR Hosting, the previous owner of 1701.
The group of film companies have released many blockbusters and award-winning motion pictures, including Automata (starring Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith), Survivor (with Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan), Hunter Killer (Gary Oldman, Linda Cardellini), I Feel Pretty (staring Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams and Rory Scovel) and Shock and Awe (with Woody Harrelsen and James Marsden).
1701 Management is a Puerto Rican company that allegedly sells, or has sold, VPN services under the name LiquidVPN to residents of Florida. The previous owner, David Cox, a Michigan resident, appears to have sold 1701 Management to Charles Muszynski in 2019.
First Time a VPN Provider Has Been Charged
All three movie companies had previously tried to go after individual file-sharers, apps such as Popcorn Time and Showbox, and pirate sites such as YTS. So far, however, these efforts proved unsuccessful. With this lawsuit, they seem to be trying a new approach and are going directly after the VPN provider who ‘facilitated’ piracy.
It is the first time that a VPN provider has been charged because of its business model. A VPN provider is not so easy to sue. Many providers provide their subscribers “anonymous” usage. For example, by not keeping logs, assigning shared IP addresses and/or encrypting all traffic.
This means that, in most cases, VPNs are not liable for the activities of their users, much like regular ISPs, as they “don’t know what subscribers use their service for”. However, the trio of movie companies argues that, in this case, this logic does not apply, as LiquidVPN went further than simply offering a VPN service.
LiquidVPN Facilitates Piracy…
LiquidVPN advertises their service as “the most trusted VPN for Kodi, Torrenting, online privacy and streaming”. They have over 2,000 public IP addresses and offer a built-in VPN kill switch. “Imagine getting access to a new IP anytime you use the VPN for Kodi and BitTorrent”, the website says.
The movie companies allege “a hundred Jane and John Does” used a dynamic IP address provided by LiquidVPN to illegally download and share some of their movies. To do so, they used piracy websites such as Pirate Bay, either directly or via a BitTorrent Client, such as Popcorn Time, a known vehicle for distributing pirated content.
In many parts of the world, including the UK, ISPs block Popcorn Time. The open-source app has been largely offline over the past year, but Popcorn Time seems to have resurfaced since 2020. LiquidVPN intentionally promotes the use of its VPN service for Torrenting and Popcorn Time.
… And Actively Promotes It
On their website, LiquidVPN specifies that their service can be used to “Watch Popcorn Time without being detected by your ISP and P2P tracking software”. One headline reads: “Experience everything Popcorn Time has to offer in the United States and the UK. Except the risks”. And a bit further on a paragraph states “Stream Content Anonymously. Why bother risking complaints from your ISP, settlement demands, threats and jail time for streaming your favorite TV show.”
In another section dedicated to Torrenting, LiquidVPN ranks its service as a “DMCA Free Zone”. The VPN service provider claims it does not have the ability to forward Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices to users. “Any copyright holders trying to monitor the IP addresses of torrent users downloading their content will not see your real IP address. You can feel safe knowing we are there to shield you from DMCA notices.”
With regard to DMCA, the US Congress established a safe harbor for ISPs, to give them protection from liability for copyright infringements when users upload copyrighted materials. To benefit from this safe harbor, however, the service provider must demonstrate that they’ve adopted and implemented a policy to notify and terminate repeat infringers.
Up To $150,000 In Damages Per Title
The three movie production companies are seeking damages of up to $150,000 per pirated title, statutory damages of $25,000 for DMCA violations and legal fees. In addition, they want LiquidVPN to adopt policies in line with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, block certain websites and ban repeat infringers.