The biggest music publisher in the world, Sony/ATV, has hired anti-piracy attack dog Rightscorp Inc. on a year’s contract.
According to an SEC filing dated September 29, Rightscorp will now act as an agent for Sony/ATV in the US to “monitor the Internet for infringements of copyrights” on illegal download sites.
What happens next is controversial territory.
Sony/ATV has authorised Rightscorp to collect data on piracy activity – the sort of thing that will come in useful for any future legal cases – and to send notices to Internet Service Providers of infringements of its copyrights.
Then there’s this: Sony/ATC has also contracted Rightscorp to ‘negotiate and collect settlements on Sony’s behalf with each infringer’, from which Sony/ATV will be paid 50% of net revenues.
Rightscorp has gained a reputation for strong-armed reaction to torrenting activity.
“[RIGHTSCORP] WILL NEGOTIATE AND COLLECT SETTLEMENTS ON SONY’S BEHALF WITH EACH INFRINGER.”
The company, formerly known as Digital Rights, crawls the internet for the IP address of ‘seeders’ – those uploading infringing content to torrent sites.
It then pushes these individuals’ ISPs to forward on scary notices from Rightscorp.
These letters tend to offer infringers a choice between paying a settlement fee (around US $20-$30 per illegal track) or facing a possible lawsuit for damages of around $150,000 USD under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
If the ISPs refuse to forward on these letters, Rightscorp can turn legal on them: two other Rightscorp clients, BMG and Round Hill, are currently suing broadband provider Cox Communications in the US for turning a blind eye to illegal activity after being sent Rightscorp notices.
Over 200 ISPs are now apparently forwarding on Rightscorp’s letters, with the customers of over 70 ISPs having now paid a fine.
It’s not a clear cut situation: some courts in the US have actually ruled that any ISP forwarding ‘DCMA subpoenas’ to users could itself be found liable for prosecution.
Then there’s the cultural consideration: after the amount of heat the music business faced for ‘suing its customers’ in the wake of Napster, is this a wise route for Sony/ATV to take?
Isn’t it risking accusations of hiring a ‘copyright troll’ to scare music fans?
“THIS IS A MONUMENTAL AGREEMENT FOR RIGHTSCORP. IT OPENS THE DOOR FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW IN SONY’S FOOTSTEPS.”
The publisher’s response, no doubt, would go something like this: stealing music is illegal and any punishment for this behaviour, whether as fine or deterrent, is to be welcomed.
Especially in an age where publishers/songwriters receive just 10%-13% of on-demand streaming royalty payouts from the likes of Spotify, while traditional mechanical income keeps on falling.
And where Pandora is legally permitted to pay out a mere fraction of its income to publishers.
Said Rightscorp in a statement: “This is a monumental agreement for Rightscorp, in that partnering with one of the world’s largest entertainment and media conglomerates in Sony not only legitimises the market they serve as a growing concern, but opens the door for others to follow in Sony’s footsteps.”
Rightscorp will certainly be hoping that’s the case: in its last fiscal year, the firm posted a $3.4m net loss.
Over 70% of all of its income came from fines issued on behalf of a music client, BMG.
Sony/ATV, arguably the world’s most powerful music rights company, is therefore a huge client for Rightscorp.
It controls over 4m copyrights, according to MBW estimates, including songs by the likes of Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Pharrell Williams, Taylor Swift, The Beach Boys and Elvis Presley. That means a lot of infringement to monitor and shake down for Rightscorp.
Sony/ATV’s Rightscorp contract is on a rolling 30-day basis, and can be cancelled by the publisher at any time.
The timing of the Rightscorp deal came in the same month that Sony/ATV’s EMI Production Music launched a ‘sample amnesty’ that allowed producers to own up to infringing on copyrights without legal repercussions.