Virtual private networks can be great for folks wary of how their data is tracked online, but what happens when a VPN provider directly markets itself to those who would use that promise of anonymity to break the law?
LiquidVPN is now facing a lawsuit from pissed-off movie copyright holders that argue the provider purposefully billed itself as a haven for copyright infringers looking to pirate their favourite TV shows and movies and should be held liable for its users’ misdeeds. Voltage Holdings, Millennium Funding, and Hunter Killer Productions claim that LiquidVPN users illegally pirated titles such as I Feel Pretty, Shock and Awe, Automata, Survivor, and Hunter Killer, according to a complaint filed in a Florida federal court this week.
The rights owners are suing 1701 Management and its owner Charles Muszynski, which they allege own LiquidVPN, for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. In their complaint, they particularly call out several of the site’s promotional materials that appear to fly in the face of the law.
“The LiquidVPN Defendants actively promote their LiquidVPN Service for the purpose of movie piracy, including of infringing Plaintiffs’ Works. The LiquidVPN Defendants’ website includes a statement that their VPN service is the ‘Best VPN for Torrenting and P2P Filesharing today’ over the image of the notorious movie piracy website Pirate Bay,” the lawsuit reads.
Other promotional content that’s still up on LiquidVPN’s site advertises its services in conjunction with Popcorn Time, a popular torrent-based streaming client that copyright holders have frequently tried to stamp out. “Experience everything Popcorn Time has to offer in the United States and the UK. Except the risks,” the site reads. “Stream Content Anonymously. Why bother risking complaints from your ISP, settlement demands, threats and jail time for streaming your favourite TV show.”
LiquidVPN’s open appeal to copyright infringers and failure to terminate service for repeat offenders disqualifies it from the safe harbour from liability afforded to ISPs under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the rights owners argue. They added that they sent notices of infringements after discovering the piracy but were ignored.
Voltage Holdings, Millennium Funding, and Hunter Killer Productions are also suing the BitTorrent users who illegally uploaded or downloaded the films themselves for direct copyright infringement, though the lawsuit doesn’t name them individually. They’re also seeking an injunction against LiquidVPN to prevent the service from encouraging users to pirate content and providing access to copyrighted material.