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Effort afoot in court to sue Canadians for illegal downloads


 

MONTREAL – Massive lawsuits targeting people who illegally download copyrighted content are common in the U.S., where people have been stuck with hefty fines and out-of-court settlements.

Now there’s an attempt to bring that to Canada.

At the center of the effort is Canipre, the only anti-piracy enforcement firm that provides forensic services to copyright-holders in Canada.

The Montreal-based firm has been monitoring Canadian users’ downloading of pirated content for several months. It has now gathered more than one million different evidence files, according to its managing director Barry Logan.

One of its clients is now before Federal Court in Toronto, requesting customer information for over 1,000 IP addresses — a user’s unique Internet signature — collected by Canipre.

That client is the American studio Voltage Pictures, maker of hundreds of films including the Academy Award-winning “Hurt Locker.”

On the other side of the case is Teksavvy, an Ontario-based Internet provider. The IP addresses flagged by Canipre link back to its users.

The case is set to resume next month.

If the court orders Teksavvy to hand over customer info, it could be the beginning of a new chapter in the anti-piracy battle in Canada.

“We have a long list of clients waiting to go to court,” said Canipre’s Logan, who estimates that about 100 different companies are paying close attention to the case.

These lawsuits have been common in the U.S. Between 200,000 and 250,000 people have been sued in the last two years, according to one Internet civil-liberties group.

“They send off threatening letters telling them, ‘If you don’t pay up we’re going to name you in this lawsuit and you could be on the hook for up to $150,000 in damages,'” said Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director of that group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Canadians don’t risk such severe damages, because of a bill passed last year that modified the federal Copyright Act.

Bill C-11 imposed a limit of $5,000 on damages awarded for non-commercial copyright infringement, which applies to the average consumer who downloads films.

“The reason Parliament did that (is) they didn’t want the courts to be used in this way,” said David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

The advocacy group is an intervenor in the Toronto case.

“Copyright is supposed to be a framework legislation. It’s not supposed to be used for building a compensation model.” He says the phenomenon of file-sharing suits is relatively new in Canada.

He said there has only been a single file-sharing lawsuit in Canada, launched by the music industry. The case, BMG Canada Inc. vs. John Doe, was launched in 2004, and it failed.

Fewer said no similar attempts have been made — until now.

“I’m a little bit surprised to see this (new) litigation popping up in Canada. We typically don’t have a culture in Canada for this kind of use of courts,” Fewer said.

For now, Canipre is the only Canadian firm providing this type of service. And it’s proud of the work it does.

“We understand the culture of piracy,” Logan said, adding that he has been involved in numerous IP-related litigation cases across Canada.

“We’re bringing that model up here as a means to change social attitudes toward downloading,” said the Canipre executive. “Many people know it is illegal but they continue to do it.”

The company advertises its ability to conduct “aggressive takedown campaigns” for clients.

It monitors websites where pirated content is known to be available, and it searches for its clients’ content. When it finds violations, Canipre asks the hosting website to remove the content — a process known as a takedown request.

“By aggressive, what we’re saying is, ‘We don’t do one or two takedown (requests), we do 1,000-2,000 at a time,'” said Logan, who lives in Ontario.”We’ve managed to put a business process in place with a lot of the top-tier platforms that provide pirated content.”

But his company services don’t just include suing people. He says there’s an educational message, too.

“Our collective goal is not to sue everybody… but to change the sense of entitlement that people have, regarding Internet-based theft of property.”

“File Saturation” is one example of an educational message.

The firm uploads a harmless file to sharing websites which closely resembles the content users are seeking. There is one key difference: This particular file is completely useless.

The goal of that effort? Make it harder and more time-consuming to download illegally.

Logan expects Federal Court to order the Internet provider, Teksavvy, to hand over customer information.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, Logan will keep fighting against piracy.

“Litigation is not the only tool that will change piracy — it’s simply a tool.”

Logan wants piracy to become a taboo, much like drinking-and-driving is now.

“That’s (not) the attitude here in Canada: It’s a pervasive sense of entitlement,” he said. “(Illegally) downloading content should also be socially unacceptable.”

For now, piracy remains strong in Canada: there were more than 370,000 Bit Torrent transactions over a month — a transaction being each time a user opens a session to download a film — according to statistics gathered by Canipre for its clients.

Those statistics only include Canipre’s clients, so the actual Canadian number is far higher.


 
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Effort afoot in court to sue Canadians for illegal downloads

  1. A $5000 fine for downloading a movie is completely out of proportion, and is yet another example of government passing laws pushed by industry lobby groups.

    • It’s economically infeasible to sue people when the damages are capped at $5000. I don’t think their campaign will be very successful.

      • Although an industry determined to set an example could potentially sue for $5000 in damages plus costs. If they’re confident in their information, that could achieve the scary headlines they’re looking for and offset their costs.

  2. The ultimate insult to a movie company is that their movie isn’t illegally(?) downloaded because the downloader doesn’t even want to waste the bandwidth. In essence, it can’t even be given away.

    That being said, my major problem with this approach is the assumption that every illegal(?) download represents a lost sale of the dvd or a lost theatre ticket. I suggest that this is not the case, I would venture that anecdotally, much less than 5% represent lost dvd sales and less than 30% represent lost ticket sales. Factor in that the download might actually stimulate sales and my contention is that the whole thing represents a wash.

    But as a cover for even more peeking up the skirts of people’s on-line lives, this serves quite nicely. The authorities should actually be concentrating on real cyber-crime, hacking financial information and the financial mega-nationals using their on-line presence to manipulate markets and evade taxation.

    But it’s all about control, and control of information, be it entertainment or otherwise, is the CRAP holy grail.

  3. IIRC the earlier case didn’t “fail” per se but the particular and rare type of application they used to try to get IP addresses was found to be somehow improper (can’t recall the details, which I realize is v. important in this instance). The BMG people then had the opportunity to come back and do everything properly but decided not to pursue it any further.

    • So, really, what you are saying is, that it failed.

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