Oops: Comcast forgot that court records are public documents

August 21, 2013
(Imgur)
(Imgur)

An agent for Comcast has threatened to sue the technology blog TorrentFreak over its coverage of one of the Web's biggest copyright trolls. The cable company is also putting pressure on TorrentFreak's Web host to take the blog offline. Unfortunately, Comcast, or a company that helps enforce its copyrights online, doesn't seem to understand how public records work.

Last week, TorrentFreak reported on Prenda Law's alleged decision to upload professional porn to a filesharing site in hopes of attracting illegal downloaders that Prenda could then sue for infringement.

In response to a subpoena, Comcast filed a document confirming the link between Prenda and the uploaded files.

But Comcast says that by posting a scanned copy of the subpoena response last week, TorrentFreak violated the cable company's copyright. Through a representative called Cyveillance, Comcast served TorrentFreak and its Web hosting provider with a cease-and-desist letter. The letter didn't say what exactly TorrentFreak had done wrong — just that the blog had violated copyright and that if it wasn't fixed, Comcast would sue.

The subpoena response includes Comcast's corporate logo, so it's possible that's what the company was talking about. Comcast didn't respond to my calls this morning, and a Cyveillance spokesperson declined to comment.

But even so, reproducing court documents is generally considered kosher under copyright law. And this is clearly a public record — you can find it on PACER, the judicial system's website for public documents. TorrentFreak told me that it consulted with the recipient of the subpoena response — the law firm facing off against Prenda — who also confirmed that the faxed letter is safe to use.

When TorrentFreak asked Cyveillance for clarification, it replied that Comcast had since instructed Cyveillance to stop pursuing the takedown request. Somebody at Comcast may have realized that the mistake was theirs all along.

That leaves the threat from TorrentFreak's Web host, which could still ask TorrentFreak to remove its post or be disconnected. But if the hosting provider was simply responding to pressure from Comcast, then perhaps this'll all get cleared up soon.

Update: In a statement to the Post, Comcast admits it messed up. "This notice was sent in error, and we have advised TorrentFreak to disregard it. We apologize for any confusion." Comcast also said that it has told the Web hosting service to ignore the notice.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · August 21, 2013