Copyright Trolls Now Threatening College Students With Loss of Scholarship, Deportation

from the sweethearts dept

In all of our coverage of copyright trolls, those rent-seeking underdwellers that fire off threat letters to those they suspect of copyright infringement with demands designed to extract cash without having to actually take anyone to court, it's quite easy to become somewhat numb to the underhanded tactics they employ. Between specifically targeting folks over pornography in order to minimize the chance that anyone might want to actually go to trial, to the privacy invading tactics occasionally used when a court case actually commences, it becomes easy to simply shrug at the depravity of it all.

But there is a special place in hell for copyright trolls who falsely inform students that failure to pay on receipt of threat letters, or who falsely inform foreign students that deportation could result from a failure to pay. According to at least one university in Canada, this is apparently a new favored tactic among some copyright trolls.

According to the copyright office at the University of Manitoba, mainly US-based rightsholders are writing on a regular basis to students demanding cash settlements for alleged infringement. Noting that the university forwards copyright infringement notices to students as they’re required to under the country’s ‘notice and notice‘ regime, the copyright office says some of the letters are “tantamount to extortion.”

In addition to cautioning over the potential for multi-million dollar lawsuits, some notice senders are stepping up their threats to suggest that students could lose their scholarships if fines aren’t paid. For visiting students, things become even more scary. According to the university’s copyright office, some porn producers have told foreign students that they could face deportation if an immediate cash settlement of hundreds of dollars is not forthcoming.

Just so everyone is clear, loss of scholarship and/or deportation is not a thing that can actually happen as a result of failure to pay a copyright threat letter. I'm unclear on the implications of these letters coming from the US to Canada, but it sure sounds a hell of a lot like wire fraud to me. The point of wire fraud laws is to prevent one entity from gaining another's possessions under false pretenses. Threats of consequences that will not occur sure seem to fit the description, and I would think the Canadian government would want to say something about the claim that a foreign company could influence its immigration oversight on the basis of downloaded pornography.

Fortunately, the school is not simply taking this without action. Joel Guenette is the Copyright Strategy Manager for the university and he regularly educates students on the true nature of these threats.

“None of these are real consequences that could ever happen in the Canadian scheme of things, but we hear from students all the time – especially international students – who are really freaked out by this,” Guenette says.

While being scared is understandable in such situations, Guenette’s department is keen to educate students on what these notices really mean. Particularly, they’re keen to stress that notice senders have no idea who notices have been delivered to, so students shouldn’t believe that copyright holders already know who they are.

Given how flimsy the evidence for any infringement tends to be in these cases, as well as how these accusations have been shown to be wrong in the past, the idea of subjecting this kind of terror to students, particularly foreign students, as purely a business tactic is about as slimy a thing as I can imagine. Hopefully more schools are doing as much as the University of Manitoba to educate their students on the pure BS of the majority of these troll letters.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 2:30pm

    'A well balanced law, taking both sides in to account...'

    Be nice if there was, oh I dunno, some sort of penalty for blatantly lying in these extortion letters.

    Wouldn't even have to be a serious one, just something along the lines of 'Any letter you send must be checked by agency X, and if found to contain fraudulent claims will be rejected and not passed on to the target. Repeated fraudulent claims will void the right to send them for six months for a first offense, one year for a second offense, and permanently for a third. Any attempt to bypass this requirement will count as three strikes immediately, as well as grounds for legal action against you.'

    However given all the rules and limits are tossed out the window any time someone invokes The Almighty Copyright I suppose that would be too much to ask for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 4:33pm

      Re: 'A well balanced law, taking both sides in to account...'

      When "notice-and-notice" was enacted here some trolls mistakenly
      made threats based on U.S. statutory damages, ignoring our limits. ‌

      Our government then made it clear that such behaviour is illegal.

      These guys are literally asking for trouble from a nation that
      already drew a line in the sand, and our courts are aware of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 4:41pm

        Re: Re: 'A well balanced law, taking both sides in to account...'

        Our government then made it clear that such behaviour is illegal.

        ... and? If there's no actual punishment handed out then they can say it's illegal all they want, the trolls will just ignore them and continue their highly lucrative extortion racket.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 6:11pm

          Well, now an opportunity has come up for the very first time
          and it has already gotten some mainstream press attention. ‌‌

          I suspect our courts would like to show they're not as lazy.
          All we need now is for someone to drag them into court. ‌‌ ;]

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 17 Sep 2016 @ 12:20am

            Re:

            Well, hopefully it works out better there than it typically does in the US, where at the first sign of trouble the trolls drop the case and simply move on to the next mark, of which there are always more given their complete indifference to accuracy.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2016 @ 1:22am

        Re: Re: 'A well balanced law, taking both sides in to account...'

        mainly US-based rightsholders

        Good luck with that extradition request.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 19 Sep 2016 @ 5:54pm

          Extradition wouldn't be needed. ‌ A civil suit could levy a fine
          and an injunction could stop the fraudulent threats right away.
          If they decide not to show up, courts can use a default judgement.

          If they violate an injunction an extradition would be automatic
          and U.S. courts would honour it with little to no delay or discussion.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 19 Sep 2016 @ 6:33am

      Re: 'A well balanced law, taking both sides in to account...'

      Prenda.

      Still it took a few good years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 3:47pm

    The sisters

    They should be put in prison and introduced to Bogs Diamond and the Sisters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 4:06pm

    Perhaps the school needs to attach a legal notice to each threat letter laying out how the common threats aren't true.

    It would also probably be beneficial to send copies of the threats to the courts & legislators and ask them is this how the intended things to work.
    Allowing companies to make threats against people not convicted of any crime while demanding money so their house doesn't mysteriously burn down... one would think given the historical actions they've taken against the Mob to stop this sort of thing, they wouldn't just pass a law to codify a new Mob shaking down people over threats.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 4:16pm

      Re:

      But... but... The Almighty Copyright!

      Sure extortion is wrong when the mob does it, but when you do it in the name of copyright it's perfectly acceptable, because nothing is more important than The Almighty Copyright, and it must be protected at all costs!

      If that means allowing parasitic companies that produce nothing to send out extortion letters threatening fines of thousands, loss of scholarships or even deportation, all based upon extremely flimsy evidence(if there's any evidence at all), then that's a price the public will just have to pay in order to protect The Almighty Copyright.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 4:15pm

    "to those they suspect of copyright infringement"

    Wow, that's a very generous assumption!
    I highly doubt they suspect any such thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 16 Sep 2016 @ 6:28pm

    Notice and notice PLUS editoral notes

    I admit I'm ignorant of the particulars of the Canadian "notice and notice" system, but if I worked for University of Manitoba and if it weren't explicitly forbidden, I would pass on the letter per legal obligation along with a cover letter explaining that I have to send the enclosed letter along, but it is complete BS and you should feel free to ignore it, and call our office if you have questions. Because education is the way to solve this problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2016 @ 12:21am

    I can't what for whoever to come over vomit on the page; an impassioned defence of these noble copyright holder actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 17 Sep 2016 @ 3:15am

    While the University of Manitoba is happy to charge overseas students $17 - 30 K in tuition fees, they do not seem to be prepared to have one of their law professors or the legal department stand up to the trolls and refuse to forward the letters unless their comply with both Canadian and international law.

    Supporting the extortion tactics of the trolls, and then have a 'copyright strategy director' explain that probably, they are safe (but take this at your own risk) is nothing less than siding with the extortionists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      madasahatter (profile), 17 Sep 2016 @ 10:06am

      Re:

      Do not Canadian law, but are the trolls trying move into "virgin" territory because the US courts calling their bluffs often enough to make it dangerous to continue?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Sep 2016 @ 2:06pm

    Attached letter:

    The letter attached to this notice is fraudulent, without merit and contains complete lies and lets be honest, bullshit.
    The company sending these can't TOUCH YOU, can't get a court order in Canada that would affect you in any way, cannot initiate court proceedings for ANYTHING in Canada whatsoever, however we legally have to send the letter to you. Please feel free to cut it into small squares and use it as discount toilet paper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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