Organization Sending Possibly Illegal P2P Demand Notices in Canada

Filesharing settlement demand notices probably should have been a relic of a bygone era, but a report is surfacing saying that they continue to get sent.

Picture the scenario: An anti-piracy outfit obtains an IP address of someone allegedly uploading copyrighted material. The unsuspecting subscriber receives a letter as a result saying that if they don’t pay up, then they could be on the hook for millions in damages.

For those who follow the copyright debates for some time, they know this scenario and probably roll their eyes having heard this a million times. Yet, this scenario continues to play out.

According to Global, one person is facing just a scenario. She doesn’t know file-sharing. She doesn’t get content through illicit means. Unfortunately, she is being ordered to pay up for uploading copyrighted material without permission. From the report:

But Morgante is just one of about 3,400 Canadians facing legal actions in Federal Court launched by a prestigious Toronto law firm on behalf of U.S. movie production companies attempting to enforce their copyright claims.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” said lawyer Ken Clark, a partner at Aird & Berlis LLP, who is spearheading the litigation.

“If you get caught, you have to pay,” he said.

One of Clark’s clients, Bodyguard Productions, Inc., made the Hollywood film The Hitman’s Bodyguard, described as a “genuine smash hit” by Forbes Magazine, earning more than US$70 million when it was released in 2017, according to the publication.

But producers and distributors said they believe they have lost significant additional revenue to video pirates who are sharing the movie online for free in violation of copyright legislation, including Canada’s Copyright Act.

“We are trying to educate people and make it sting a little,” Clark told Global News, describing how his law firm is methodically sending out hundreds of legal claims against Canadians who shared the movie.

The report goes on to say that she received a demand to pay up $3,000 in a settlement to make the charges go away. There’s just one catch to this: such settlement demand notices are illegal.

Back in December, we brought you news that demanding settlement payments are illegal. The law, which went under the name Bill C-86 before it received royal assent, clearly laid out the following:

(3) A notice of claimed infringement shall not contain:
(a) an offer to settle the claimed infringement;
(b) a request or demand, made in relation to the claimed infringement, for payment or for personal information;
(c) a reference, including by way of hyperlink, to such an offer, request or demand; and
(d) any other information that may be prescribed by regulation

Furthermore, we’re not aware of any cases in a Canadian Federal court revolving around file-sharing, let alone several thousand.

The report vaguely says that special “sniffer” technology is used to detect infringement. However, it is widely established that anti-piracy organizations generally hop onto BitTorrent swarms and other open networks and just collects the IP address. So, for all the high end techniques suggested in the report, what actually happens in an investigation is actually very low tech.

On top of it all, the report highlights precisely why various courts around the world are beginning to realize why an IP address is not conclusive evidence of guilt. As long as someone has access to a network, they can use it to gain access to various file-sharing networks and download and upload copyrighted material. The only person that will be at the end of an IP address is the unsuspecting subscriber who pays the bills.

So, if it’s someone else in the family or someone cracking a WiFi password, there’s a very good chance that they will remain unknown to the anti-piracy organization. Meanwhile, that organization is simply out there collecting the money after from people who are likely innocent of anything. They, of course, don’t really care who they target so long as they manage shake a few coins out of the consumers pockets. This is a tactic that some have described as “thuggish” or “racketeering”.

Unfortunately, as critics of the recently passed law point out, while it may be illegal to send demand notices, there are no real penalties tied to it. So, even if they are found guilty of sending illegal notices, nothing is really going to stop them. As such, they’ll likely continue to break the law until lawmakers decide to have enough and amend the laws to stop such potentially illegal operations in Canada.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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