Canadian court just made it harder for unnecessary copyright suits to launch

The outbreak of copyright trolling cases in the United States and Britain in recent years has sparked considerable anger from courts, Internet providers and subscribers. These cases, which typically involve sending thousands of legal letters alleging copyright infringement and demanding thousands of dollars to settle, rely on ill-informed and frightened subscribers, who would rather pay the settlement than fight in court.

Canada was largely spared these cases until 2012, when Voltage Pictures, a United States film company, filed a lawsuit demanding that TekSavvy, a leading independent Internet provider, disclose the names and addresses of thousands of subscribers who it claimed infringed its copyright. TekSavvy did not formally oppose the request, but it did ensure that its subscribers were informed about the lawsuit and it supported an intervention from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, a technology law clinic, that brought the privacy and copyright trolling concerns to the court’s attention (I sit on the CIPPIC advisory board).

The federal court issued its much-anticipated decision on Thursday, granting Voltage’s request for the subscriber names, but adding numerous safeguards designed to discourage copyright trolling lawsuits in Canada. The safeguards include court oversight of the “demand letter” that will be sent to subscribers, with a case management judge assigned to review and approve its contents before being sent to any subscriber. Moreover, the letter must include a message in bold type that “no Court has yet made a determination that such subscriber has infringed or is liable in any way for payment of damages.”

Further, the court noted that given recent changes to Canadian copyright law that create a $5,000 cap on liability for non-commercial infringement, the damages “may be miniscule compared to the cost, time and effort in pursuing a claim against the subscriber.”

Read the full article by Michael Geist on The Tyee.

Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He is an syndicated columnist on technology law issues and writes a regular column for the Toronto Star and the Ottawa Citizen. Dr. Geist is the editor of From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (2010) and In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law (2005), both published by Irwin Law. He edits several monthly technology law publications, and is the author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.

Dr. Geist serves on many boards, including the CANARIE Board of Directors, the Canadian Legal Information Institute Board of Directors, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board, the Electronic Frontier Foundation Advisory Board, and on the Information Program Sub-Board of the Open Society Institute.

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