New policy cracks downs on internet piracy in Canada with a a fine of up to $5000

Some American studios have found a legal loophole that might make it a lot harder to download the newest episode of Game of Thrones.

April 17, 2019

Game of Thrones might be back, but maybe think twice before clicking “download” on that torrent. Though Canadians have historically been blessed with relatively lax piracy laws compared to their stateside neighbours, studios are finally using a legal loophole to fight back against file-sharing, which might leave world-be pirates with a potentially hefty fine to pay.

In the past, Canadians who have been flagged for illegal file-sharing have been dealt warnings issued by their Internet Service Providers on behalf of the copyright holders whose work they were allegedly infringing upon, as a part of the Canadian Copyright Act’s Notice and Notice Regime.

Though these warnings occasionally came with threats of an (entirely optional) monetary fine stemming from the alleged illegal activity, an amendment to the Notice and Notice Regime last December clarified “that a notice of claimed infringement that contains an offer to settle, or a request or demand for payment or for personal information, or a reference to any such offer, request or demand, in relation to the claimed infringement, does not comply with the regime,” putting a stop to these warnings’ accompaniment by any superficial legal threats.

Understandably, a number of American production companies are not too convinced by the Notice and Notice Regime’s warning-based approach as an effective deterrent to piracy, which is why companies such as HBO have taken the responsibility from ISPs and are now looking to deal with illegal downloaders through a form of class action lawsuit.

Canadian Internet users have reported a recent influx in receiving letters sent from a Toronto law firm on behalf of American movie and television studios. These letters, addressed to “John Doe”, inform users that they are being sued for copyright infringement and have 30 days to file a defence:

But don’t let the vagueness of “John Doe” fool you. These threats are apparently very real, with “John Doe” referring in this case, the collection of IP addresses, obtained by these production companies, that are purported to be repeat offenders when it comes to engaging in illegal downloading.

Law firm McInnes-Cooper described this process, called a “reverse class action lawsuit”, as such:

“The studio starts a single class action lawsuit against a group of people it usually calls “John Doe” because it doesn’t know their names yet. The studio then identifies a person sharing or downloading movies online, usually using BitTorrent. Next, it sends each of these people a notice through their internet service providers (ISPs) that asserts the person’s activity infringes the studio’s copyright in the movie under the Copyright Act, and demands they stop.

If the studio later identifies one of these people downloading or sharing the same movie, it adds that person as a defendant in the class action lawsuit the studio has started against “John Doe.” Finally, the studio applies to the Federal Court of Canada to order the ISP to identify the customer account-holder from the IP address associated with the activity. With this customer name and address, the studio sues that customer for violating the Copyright Act.”

Though the firm’s description outlines that inclusion in the John Doe lawsuit requires ignorance of a past warning from one’s ISP, there are reports of users receiving these legal threats despite them having drawn no past warnings:

According to a report on CBC’s Mainstreet, should these letters go ignored and a statement of defence not be filed, the suing copyright holders have the right to receive a “default judgment” against the defendants – a conclusion of assumed guilt made by the courts stemming from the defendants’ ignorance of the lawsuit, which can lead to one receiving the maximum fine for piracy in Canada ($5000).

Due to the 30-day response window, the fallout from this alternate route that American studios are taking to stop Canadian piracy  have yet to be seen ­– according to Reddit users, many of these statements were issued in the wake of this past weekend’s Game of Thrones premiere – though the wild wild west of Canadian copyright laws may be coming to an end.

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