By Leah Hansen
A recent court decision in the TekSavvy-Voltage Pictures case is working towards shutting down copyright trolling in Canada and protecting alleged infringers from being exploited.
In a decision released Feb. 20, a judge ordered TekSavvy, a popular Internet service provider (ISP) among students, to disclose 2,000 IP addresses and corresponding customer names to Voltage Pictures — the company responsible for films such as The Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyers Club. Voltage filed a lawsuit in late 2012 alleging copyright infringement by TekSavvy customers.
By law, the maximum amount Voltage could gain from any one individual for copyright infringement is $5,000.
“Five-thousand dollars for a first offence without any strikes or warning is overkill,” said Martin Wennde, a first-year Ryerson computer science student and TekSavvy customer.
“Yes, it is illegal but it’s like jaywalking, a crime that nobody enforces.”
While this decision might appear to be a blow to TekSavvy, experts are saying it’s a big step in discouraging an extortion scheme, known as copyright trolling, in Canada.
Copyright trolling occurs when a copyright holder uses the legal process to extract excess amounts of money from alleged infringers, said David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), which intervened in the case. Fewer said that copyright trolling is common in the United States. After a ruling has been made, a copyright holder is permitted to send letters out to the alleged offenders.
“They’re really leveraging fear and anxiety in the cost of defending yourself in a court to build a business model on the basis of low-scale intellectual copyright infringement,” he said.
Fewer said the outcome of this particular highly publicized case was actually a positive one.
“I think this decision is a death blow to copyright trolls in Canada,” he said. “I think Voltage is extremely unhappy with this decision.”
Even though Voltage Pictures has been successful in getting the desired ruling in this case, students using TekSavvy have little to worry about, according to Avner Levin, director of the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management.
“There are a number of steps there that make it more expensive and costly for Voltage to go after people,” Levin said. “The more expensive it is to litigate and to pursue it, the less it’s worth it for them.”
Before TekSavvy hands any customer information over to Voltage Pictures, they must also reimburse any fees TekSavvy has accrued as a result of the lawsuit, Tina Furlan, TekSavvy’s director of marketing and press communication, said.
This includes legal fees, which can amount to many hundreds of dollars an hour, Levin said.
In the event that Voltage does decide to continue pursuing alleged infringers, the courts will oversee every step of the process, Fewer said.
“All Voltage has is evidence that a particular subscriber’s IP address may have been involved in a download,” he said.
Because the letter confers no legal obligations, there’s no need to be intimidated, Levin said, adding that sending a quick response denying the allegations is the best way to respond.
“The more expensive it is for the other side to litigate it, the more likely that you are to be let off the hook,” he said.
“Don’t pay until somebody actually proves that you’ve infringed upon somebody’s copyright.”
With files from Laura Woodward