Comcast may be complicating the lives of copyright holders everywhere by rejecting recent requests made to link subscriber information to IP addresses. In an ongoing legal kerfuffle with AF Holdings, adult film publisher and plaintiff, Comcast requested an Illinois district court dismiss the piles of subpoenas it has received.

Comcast argues that AF Holdings has zero interest in actually prosecuting potential copyright offenders. Rather, the cable company believes AF Holdings merely wishes to obtain subscriber information and "shake down" individuals for private, out-of-court settlements -- a phenomenon which often occurs as law firms attempt to collect as much in damages as possible on behalf of their clients, even when the defendants are decidedly innocent.

The implication is that the adult film industry is attempting to abuse both the court system and Comcast's resources in order to line its own pockets with money -- basically extortion fees from people who are afraid of becoming embroiled in a lawsuit. Here's part of Comcast's strongly worded statement:

Third, plaintiffs should not be allowed to profit from unfair litigation tactics whereby they use the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain Doe defendants' personal information and coerce 'settlements' from them. It is evident in these cases – and the multitude of cases filed by plaintiffs and other pornographers represented by their counsel – that plaintiffs have no interest in actually litigating their claims against the Doe defendants, but simply seek to use the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the Doe defendants. The Federal Rules require the Court to deny discovery 'to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.'

Source: AF Holdings vs. Comcast, scribd.com

Although Comcast has been complicit with such subpoenas in the past, the cable provider has possibly changed its tune. While Comcast appears to be siding with its subscribers in an effort to protect their privacy, there are more pragmatic reasons for refusing AF Holdings' requests: effort and expense. 

As we've seen in past copyright cases, large numbers of IP lookup requests can take months to perform, even with a full-time staff. A high-profile instance of this was a "reverse class-action" lawsuit by Voltage Pictures in 2011. Prosecutors targeted 25,000 individuals but the entire case was scrapped after prosecutors could not provide enough information to move forward after 180 days.

AF Holdings responded to Comcast's statement by accusing the company of buying and time and prejudice against the adult film industry. AF Holdings also says any delays due to Comcast's refusal will result in additional damages to plaintiffs.

"Comcast’s delay in objecting to the Plaintiffs’ subpoenas is part of a wider campaign todeny and delay the Plaintiffs’, and other similar copyright holders’ ability to protect their copyrighted works. Comcast routinely objects to subpoenas issued to it by producers of adult content. Even after courts regularly order Comcast to comply with the subpoenas, Comcast fights tooth and nail to resist complying."

"Comcast has yet to provide that plaintiff with the information it sought in its subpoena. Comcast is not a super judge that can pick-and-choose which subpoenas it wants to comply with simply because it dislikes the adult content producers that issued the subpoena."

Source: AF Holdings vs. Comcast, scribd.com