Canadian Copyright Law Caps Statutory Damages At $5,000 Just As File Sharing Lawsuits Make Their Unwelcome Return

from the sounds-like-these-suits-should-be-filed-in-small-claims-court dept

There's some bad news on the copyright front in Canada, but at least it's tempered with some, if not actually good news, reasonable news. The bad news is that file sharing lawsuits are returning to Canada, assisted by forensic software companies like Canipre, which has been collecting information on infringing users for the past several months.
A forensic software company has collected files on a million Canadians who it says have downloaded pirated content.

And the company, which works for the motion picture and recording industries, says a recent court decision forcing Internet providers to release subscriber names and details is only the first step in a bid to crack down on illegal downloads.

“The door is closing. People should think twice about downloading content they know isn’t proper,” said Barry Logan, managing director of Canipre, the Montreal-based forensic software company.

Logan said while last week’s court case involved only 50 IP addresses, his company is involved in another case that will see thousands of Canadians targeted in a sweep aimed at deterring Internet users from illegally downloading movies and other digital content.
Logan said his company has files on one million Canadians who are involved in peer-to-peer file sharing and have downloaded movies from BitTorrent sites, identifying them through Internet Protocol addresses collected over the past five months.
Moving beyond the obvious problem with identifying infringers through an IP address, it looks as if Canadian citizens are going to be on the receiving end of lawsuits brought by members of the content industry. Whether this results in a corresponding sales boost to the industries involved remains to be seen, but the tactics involved (mass lawsuits, IP addresses) seem to have been taken from the copyright trolls' handbook. In short, there's nothing remotely "good" about this news.

Even though the tactics are familiar and the companies involved state that they're modeling their actions on their American counterparts, there's one aspect that trails far "behind" the US system: statutory damages. Michael Geist reminds us of the reasonable news, which is as close to "good" as this situation gets:
While it is possible that many will receive demand letters, it is important to note that recent changes to Canadian copyright law limit liability in non-commercial cases to a maximum of $5,000 for all infringement claims. In fact, it is likely that a court would award far less - perhaps as little as $100 - if the case went to court as even the government's FAQ on the recent copyright reform bill provided assurances that Canadians "will not face disproportionate penalties for minor infringements of copyright by distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial infringement."
Compared to the US statutory damage laws, which allow for up to $150,000 per infringement, Canada's limits bring personal liability down to something more in line with the "damages" of non-commercial infringement. Even commercial infringement is treated more realistically, capping out at $20,000 per infringement.

This would be the small bit of "good" news contained within the unwelcome return of file sharing lawsuits. Geist theorizes on the mass lawsuit process, lending more credence to the idea that the represented industries are heading out for a bit of trolling. Fortunately for Canadian citizens, a low cap on damages means very few of those swept up in mass filings will end up in court.
The lawsuits will likely follow a three-step process. First, rights holders will seek a court order requiring Internet providers to disclose customer name and address information. Second, should the court order the disclosure, rights holders will use the information to send settlement demand letters to subscribers. The letters will allege infringement and likely offer to settle the case for several thousand dollars. If subscribers refuse to settle - perhaps they believe the allegation is inaccurate or the settlement demands unfair - it will fall to rights holders to follow through with a lawsuit. Given recent changes to the law, there is reason to doubt those cases will be filed as the individual liability is very limited.
If you can't keep rights holders from casting a wide net in hopes of swift settlements, the next best thing is to keep them from seeking outrageous statutory damages. With the very real possibility of showing up in court only to walk out with a $100 bill, one would suspect that settlement requests will stay at more realistic levels.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2012 @ 5:19pm

    "A forensic software company has collected files on a million Canadians who it says have downloaded pirated content."


    And this claim is backed up by what evidence exactly? If based solely upon an IP Address accessing a torrent it's insufficient. If based solely upon filenames it's insufficient. If based upon known files containing copyright material, how did those files get there? Depending upon the source of these infringing copies there could be many problems for the plaintiff in a real court room. IANAL, but there seems to be more hot air than substance when it comes to press releases about copyright lawsuits. I suppose they claim the details of methods used are proprietary ... tell it to the judge.

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