Some 1,100 internet users in central Canada could find out Monday if they will be targeted for litigation by a Hollywood movie company.
As the case — one of the first attempts at a file-sharing lawsuit in Canada — moves ahead, consumers’ advocates are questioning why the internet provider involved in the case has decided not to challenge the lawsuit.
Voltage Pictures, maker of The Hurt Locker, went to court in December to compel Teksavvy, an independent Ontario-based internet provider, to hand over the identities of subscribers the film company says were engaged in unauthorized file-sharing.
Voltage has requested the identities of internet users linked to about 2,000 IP addresses, but because multiple IP addresses can be assigned to one user, only about 1,100 people could have their identities handed over to Voltage.
Teksavvy initially won applause from consumers’ advocates for publicizing the request in a press release. It was further lauded in December when it requested a delay in the case in order to give advance notice to the customers targeted by Voltage Pictures.
But when the company said it would not actually oppose the motion in court, consumers’ advocates raised fears that capitulating to what some observers describe as a “copyright troll” would set a bad precedent under Canada's new copyright regime.
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In a blog posting, lawyer Howard Knopf pointed out that, when BMG went to court against five Canadian ISPs in 2004 in order to identify 29 alleged music file-sharers, the ISPs, all major companies, opposed the request. The result was that the federal court dismissed the case, largely on the grounds that the copyright holder didn’t provide enough evidence of infringement.
“If the motion remains unopposed and is granted, the result could ... help to pave the way for future mass litigation — or the threat thereof in order to obtain vast numbers of “settlements” — in Canada in the future,” Knopf wrote. “Such litigation would be new to Canada.”
Teksavvy hasn't yet responded to a request for comment from The Huffington Post, but in a posting to the DSLReports forum, company CEO Marc Gaudrault explained that the company only meant to give its customers a chance to challenge Voltage’s request themselves, and never meant to fight the request on behalf of their customers.
“[W]e have looked into all angles to determine what our position should be in this situation and after spending a significant amount of time and soliciting a considerable amount of advice from numerous respected sources, we found that we simply could not comment on the merits of the case,” Gaudrault wrote.
“Our place is to ensure that we provide adequate notice and also to make known to others that these requests have occurred.”
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) has filed a motion to intervene in the Voltage case, in the hopes of making a similar argument to the one in the BMG case — that Voltage doesn’t have enough evidence of file-sharing to compel the release of Teksavvy customers’ identity.
CIPPIC director David Fewer has described Voltage's case as being built on "hearsay evidence" that he doubts meets the legal burden for the court to grant their request.
But with the case headed to court on Monday, it’s unlikely CIPPIC will be granted intervenor status in time, the National Post reports.
The case soon could be followed by more file-sharing lawsuits. Canipre, a Canadian copyright enforcement group that works for the Canadian and U.S. film industry, said last November it had identified one million Canadians it says were engaged in unauthorized file-sharing.
If the federal court in Toronto hearing the case grants Voltage’s request, the likely next step will be for the company to send out letters to the identified users, asking them to pay an out-of-court settlement over the issue. Voltage would likely ask users for several thousand dollars. (That’s the tack the company took during an earlier, aborted attempt at suing alleged file-sharers.)
Then the accused have a choice. They can pay the several thousand dollars and be done with it, or they can go to court and face down Voltage Pictures, and face the possibility of a maximum $5,000 fine under Canada’s new copyright law.
But, as Teksavvy’s Gaudrault notes, "the best way to protect against these requests is to simply not engage in these activities.”