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In a Shocking Twist, Comcast Now Defending User Rights

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WHAT THE WHAT?!
DailyFeed

Last week, we talked about HBO’s (TWX) initially confusing but ultimately sensible plan to keep users pirating Game of Thrones. In spite of the growing popularity of Netflix (NFLX), Apple TV (AAPL), and Google TV (GOOG) -- along with the general awesomeness of HBO’s online streaming service HBO GO -- the premium cable channel will not be selling web-only subscriptions any time soon.

Well, from the look of things, another major cable industry player has stepped up in defense of online pirates. Comcast (CMCSA) is now “refusing to comply with court-ordered subpoenas” in BitTorrent cases.

Better yet, the company has gone a step further and accused copyright holders of trying to “shake down” its subscribers.

Over the past few years, more than 250,000 BitTorrent users have been sued by various copyright holders, according to the Torrentfreak.com. The majority of these lawsuits come from adult entertainment companies, but some mainstream brands have joined in.

The process goes something like this: Copyright holders file for subpoenas asking Comcast (or other Internet providers) to identify users by their IP addresses. Once they have this information, the companies contact individual users -- or pirates -- offering a settlement that will keep them out of court.

In a recent case, Comcast requested that the court quash the subpoenas, arguing that it did not have jurisdiction over all of the defendants. More damningly for the plaintiffs, Comcast accused them of using the power of the court to force defendants to pay up.

Here’s a little bit from Comcast’s filing, which focuses on the adult entertainment industry:

“It is evident in these cases -- and the multitude of cases filed by plaintiffs and other pornographers represented by their counsel -- that plaintiffs have no interest in actually litigating their claims against the Doe defendants, but simply seek to use the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the Doe defendants.”

Comcast’s move towards subscriber privacy rights is part of a larger trend. Verizon (VZ) has also argued that it has a responsibility to protect customer privacy.

Honestly, the shift towards user privacy makes a lot of sense. Illegal downloading has been around for over a decade, and no one has figured out how to successfully combat it. At this point, ISPs might see more value in positive customer relations than in helping copyright holders lose an endless war of attrition.

Then again, maybe copyright holders just need some more lobbyists.
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