The pornography industry has long relied on the defense of free speech and internet freedom advocates when facing persecution and prosecution from decency laws and organizations committed to protecting the public from the perceived threat that porn poses to the public. However, these same groups that came begrudgingly to the defense of the pornography industry are being forced to speak out against it as Liberty Media Holdings (LMH) has recently brought a lawsuit against two roommates for the alleged illegal downloading of a pornographic film to which the company holds the rights.
While pursuing a lawsuit against a defendant accused of illegally downloading copyrighted material is nothing new, this case bears the unfortunate distinction of attempting to extend liability to a party which LMH itself acknowledges did not commit any infringement. According to a prominent personal injury lawyer, the case asserts that because the Internet subscription was in the name of the roommate who did not download the material, and he might have known that his roommate sometimes made illegal downloads, he is somehow responsible for the copyright infringement.
While the execution is new, the strategy of attempting to pressure copyright infringement defendants with bogus claims and improper procedures is nothing new. The objective is typically to intimidate the target into settling out of court despite the presence of a strong defense against shaky claims. The ramifications of this particular case are much greater than others however, as it creates the potential for liability for any entity offering free access to a Wi-Fi connection. In the St. Louis area, cafes, libraries, schools, and entire cities have been making huge strides in creating a readily accessible and free to access Wi-Fi network, a development which has benefited the public mightily while arguably promoting public safety.
Access to free and readily usable wireless internet will likely face a sharp decline should the lawsuit be successful, as businesses may be unable to operate networks out of fear for their company’s good name and financial security.