Rightscorp: A Different Approach to Infringement (CDSA)

By Chris Tribbey

In 2009 when France’s nationwide anti-piracy law (HADOPI) was first passed, it was put up as a model for how to approach piracy on a state level, one that offered a three-strikes, graduated response to dealing with online copyright infringement by Internet users.

By the time the law was revoked in mid-2013, it had cost the French government 12 million euros to implement, and had resulted in the settlement of a mere 230 or so copyright cases.

So you’ll forgive Christopher Sabec, CEO of Los Angeles-based Rightscorp, Inc., if he’s proud of the company he co-founded in 2011. To date, his company has handled more than 1.5 million copyrights, and settled 180,000 copyright infringement cases from 230 participating Internet service providers (ISPs), recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars in otherwise lost revenue for content owners. In short, Sabec said, “We think we’ve proven our business model.”

Rightscorp uses software to monitor global peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks to find illegally downloaded digital media, on behalf of copyright owners. Working with ISPs, the company sends out copyright infringement notices to users who have illegally downloaded and uploaded digital media, demanding $20 per violation.

And, using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), copyright infringers who don’t pay up, could find their Internet service suspended or terminated by their ISP. Because federal law requires ISPs to police their users for copyright violations, Rightscorp’s model has proven pretty effective, Sabec said.

“The law of the land is ISPs are required to have a policy in place to regulate their networks for repeat infringement, and they run the risk of losing safe harbor if they don’t do that,” he added. “We help the universities and ISPs stay compliant with the law by giving them a very easy way to check whether people are infringing.”

Rightscorp primarily focuses on up-loaders, those seeding copyrighted content to file-sharing sites. Once the company finds a violation has occurred — whether it’s at a college campus, a residence or a business — a notice demanding $20 is sent to the address associated with that ISP.

If someone gets a notice and chooses to pay the fee, “as long as they don’t infringe again, they’ll never hear from us,” Sabec said. “But if they continue to infringe, they’ll continue to get notices, one notice per infringement per day. And if they continue to seed our clients’ content, and ignore the notices, we escalate to the ISP or university, and look to have their Internet service suspended or terminated.”

Whether it’s a four-minute song or two-hour movie, Rightscorp approaches the violation the same way. The company simply looks to recover $20 per violation. And if an offender gets an infringement notice on a Monday, and is still seeding the infringing content that Tuesday, they’ll get a second notice, “and now the owe $40,” Sabec said. “And it escalates from there.” A week later, the ISP will be approached on behalf of the content owner to shut off the Internet service of the offending person.

Rightscorp isn’t indiscriminate with its notices, and recognizes that even though the law works by putting the onus on the account holder for a violation, sometimes wireless networks are hijacked. The company is diligent in determining whether or not they’re dealing with a serial infringer, Sabec said.

“We can tell when these stories hold water or not,” he said. “If you call us and say your network was hacked, we’ll look at your history, and see whether you’ve been downloading the newest episode of ‘Big Bang Theory’ every week like clockwork.

“However, if we see that for the past three months there hasn’t been a single infringement, and then suddenly there’s a blast of infringements one Wednesday, and nothing since then, we’ll start looking into it.”

Sabec said there continues to be “billions” of copyright infractions occurring every year, and that while the amount of bandwidth used for P2P piracy may have been down in 2014, it’s only because the amount of overall consumer bandwidth is up.

“It’s become par for the course that people feel like they have the right to download music for free, that somehow rights holders are bullies when they try to enforce their rights,” he said. “Our model may be a low fee, but [it’s] enough to get a recovery back, and send the message: piracy is wrong.”