Hollywood’s Fight Against VPNs Is Turning Ugly

PIA’s lawyer argues that these allegations should be dropped from the case because they are completely irrelevant and “only serve to inflame emotions in a misguided attempt to harm the Court and the public against defendants through a false association with non-parties. whose conduct is described in these paragraphs. “

ExpressVPN and PIA further denied these allegations in statements to WIRED. An ExpressVPN spokesperson also stressed that “the operation of the ExpressVPN service has not been altered or affected in any way relevant to the dispute between the parties.”

PIA maintained that this litigation jeopardizes user privacy and will therefore continue to fight in court. “We claim that the use of VPN is a legitimate way to protect online privacy, a fundamental human right, which is increasingly at risk of infringement,” the company said.

The legal counsel representing the film studios did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment.

Although Hollywood has been fighting legal battles around the world for years, its struggles against the VPN industry in the U.S. intensified last 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 U.S. users. And in October 2021, VPN.ht also “agreed” with these filmmakers, agreeing not only to block BitTorrent, but also to record traffic to their US servers. Hollywood studios have also taken to court vendors such as Surfshark, VPN Unlimited and Zenmate.

The film company Voltage, part of the group of companies that regularly sue VPN providers, goes a step further, sending letters to Internet customers asking for fines for alleged piracy and threatening them with legal action.

In March 2021, some of the same producers suing ExpressVPN and PIA also sued unregistered VPN provider LiquidVPN for “encouraging and facilitating” piracy. The film companies later claimed $ 10 million in damages from the company. A judge issued a pre-trial sentence against LiquidVPN in March, ordering him to pay the studies $ 14 million.

This lawsuit focused primarily on LiquidVPN’s fiery marketing practices and stated that VPN is “torrent-optimized” and allows you to “unblock ISP Prohibited Streams.” These tactics, the studies argued, encouraged the illicit use of the service by those willing to circumvent legal restrictions on access to online content. Maybe they are right.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties group on the Internet, Hollywood’s demands are “extreme and not supported by law.” But VPNs are also entering dangerous territory through their marketing tactics.

“Studies have argued that a VPN provider and your hosting company he should have had the legal responsibility to monitor what his clients were doing with the service, to see if there was a copyright infringement, “said Mitch Stoltz, a senior EFF lawyer.” Not only that. It’s not the law, it’s the whole purpose of a VPN service, which is to protect people’s Internet communications from schools. ”

Stoltz warns, however, that the bold marketing language used by VPNs, such as LiquidVPN’s “torrent-optimized” statement, may well be seen as an “incentive” in a legal context and incur liability for infringement. of copyright. Fearing the possibility of serious monetary damage, VPN providers may choose to close some of their services or settle out of court.

“In contrast, a VPN that does not advertise or encourage infringing uses will generally not be held accountable in court, even if some users infringe,” says Stoltz. “This is an important legal protection for VPN providers, which offer an important service that would be undermined if faced with broad control and blocking requirements.”

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