Hollywood’s Fight Against VPNs Goes Wrong
PIA’s attorney argues that these allegations should be struck from the case as they are totally irrelevant and “only serve to inflame emotions in a misguided attempt to prejudice the Court and the public against the defendants. by false association with non-parties whose conduct is described in these paragraphs.
ExpressVPN and PIA further denied these claims in statements to WIRED. An ExpressVPN spokesperson also pointed out that “the operation of ExpressVPN’s service has not been altered or otherwise impacted in any way regarding the dispute between the parties.”
PIA argued that this litigation jeopardizes the privacy of users and that it will therefore continue to fight in court. “We affirm that using VPNs is a legitimate way to protect online privacy, a fundamental human right that is increasingly under threat of infringement,” the company said.
The legal counsel representing the movie studios did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment.
While Hollywood has fought legal battles around the world for years, its fights against the VPN industry in the United States intensified in the past year. VPN company TorGuard, for example, landed in legal hot water with the same group of plaintiffs who successfully forced the VPN provider to block BitTorrent traffic for its US users. And in October 2021, VPN.ht also “settled” with these filmmakers, agreeing not only to block BitTorrent but also to log traffic on its US servers. Hollywood studios have also sued providers such as Surfshark, VPN Unlimited and Zenmate.
Film company Voltage, one of the group of companies that regularly sue VPN providers, goes one step further by sending letters to internet customers demanding fines for alleged hacking and threatening them with legal action.
In March 2021, some of the same production companies suing ExpressVPN and PIA also sued no-log VPN provider LiquidVPN for “encouraging and facilitating” hacking. Later, the film companies demanded $10 million in damages from the company. A judge issued a default judgment against LiquidVPN last March, ordering it to pay the studios $14 million.
This lawsuit largely centered on LiquidVPN’s fiery marketing practices and claimed that the VPN is “optimized for torrenting” and allows you to “unblock streams banned by ISPs.” These tactics, according to the studios, encouraged illicit use of the service by those who wished to circumvent legal restrictions on accessing online content. They may be right.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an internet civil liberties group, Hollywood’s demands are “extreme and not backed by law.” But VPNs are also straying into dangerous territory with their marketing tactics.
“The studios argued that a VPN provider and its host should have had the legal responsibility to monitor what its customers were doing with the service, to see if any copyright infringement was occurring,” says Mitch Stoltz, senior attorney at EFF. “Not only is it not the law, but it would undermine the whole purpose of a VPN service, which is to protect people’s Internet communications from eavesdropping.”
Stoltz warns, however, that bold marketing language used by VPNs, such as LiquidVPN’s “optimized for torrenting” claim, may very well be considered “incitement” in a legal context and give rise to liability for copyright infringement. author. Fearing the possibility of heavy monetary damages, VPN providers may instead choose to shut down some of their services or settle out of court.
“In contrast, a VPN that doesn’t advertise or encourage illicit uses generally won’t be liable in court, even if some users infringe,” Stoltz says. “This is important legal protection for VPN providers, who provide an important service that would be compromised if faced with extensive monitoring and blocking requirements.”
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