For more than a decade, alleged file-sharers around the world have been pressured to pay significant settlement fees.
These so-called copyright trolling efforts are pretty straightforward. Copyright holders obtain a list of ‘pirating’ IP-addresses and then request a subpoena from the court, compelling ISPs to hand over the associated customer data.
In recent years several news reports have appeared on these cases in the US, Sweden, Denmark and elsewhere. In Canada, things have remained quiet, but that doesn’t mean that these cases don’t exist there.
While the volume of lawsuits is relatively modest, thousands of Canadians have been targeted since 2016. The lawsuits in question are filed by the rightsholders of films such as The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Mechanic: Resurrection, Criminal, London Has Fallen, and Dallas Buyers Club,
These outfits are also active in other countries and many have a connection to Voltage Pictures, another familiar name. Voltage sued over 50,000 Canadian John Does in a reverse class action in 2011. This ‘Hurt Locker‘ case is still ongoing.
After the initial lawsuit, things went quiet, however. In the courts at least.
Initially, the movie companies focused their efforts on the so-called “notice-and-notice” scheme. This allows rightsholders to send settlement requests to alleged pirates through their ISPs. However, no personal details would be exposed. That meant that these could be easily ignored by the accused.
In recent years more than 300,000 of these “notice-and-notice” warnings were sent out by just one law firm, but the total could be over a million. This even grabbed the attention of lawmakers and legal experts.
What’s less known, however, is that in 2016 these movie companies and other rightsholders started taking cases to court again. Court records reveal that at least 16 separate lawsuits were filed since, with some targeting hundreds of people at once.
These cases are similar to the “copyright troll” efforts we see in other countries. They are litigated by the law firm Aird & Berlis and have fewer defendants than the initial Hurt Locker suit. Perhaps that’s why they remained largely under the radar.
The fallout is very real though. While none of the cases have gone to trial yet, some defendants have settled their cases for thousands of dollars.
TorrentFreak reached out to James Plotkin of law firm CazaSaikaley, who represented two defendants. He warns that from a consumer protection standpoint, the biggest problem is ignorance.
For example, many defendants may not realize that these cases are filed against John Does. This means that they are technically not being sued yet unless their name is added to the suit, which rarely happens. But it gets worse.
“I have also seen a number of consent judgments for $5,000. This is the maximum liability under the Copyright Act for non-commercial infringement. I am therefore puzzled as to why individuals would agree to settle for their likely maximum liability at trial,” Plotkin adds.
The latter is a particularly worrisome issue. It means that accused file-sharers admit guilt and agree to pay $5,000, which is the maximum damages amount they could get in court.
“I see no rational basis for paying that amount,” Plotkin notes, suggesting that some defendants are not represented by attorneys who know the ins and outs of IP law.
In most other countries the legal pressure is used to get Internet subscribers to pay a settlement fee. The matter rarely goes to trial. According to Plotkin, the same is likely to happen in Canada.
“It is difficult to say for certain, but I do not think any of these cases will go all the way,” Plotkin tells us.
“The business model so far seems to have been lifting off as many claims and letters as possible in the hopes of scaring out settlements. It has worked. I don’t see why the plaintiffs would jeopardize that by actually litigating one of these claims.”
Thus far the cases have been ongoing for years, without much resistance. Those who are unfortunate enough to get caught up in this should carefully research their options. Unlike the “notice-and-notice” emails, ignoring the legal paperwork is not a good option.
According to Plotkin, it would be wise to consult an attorney instead.
“Get competent legal advice. It is important to understand the legal playing field. Defendants are not helpless in these actions, so ignoring the claim and allowing the plaintiff to proceed in obtaining a default judgment is probably not the best option for most people,” Plotkin notes.
That is the type of advice one would expect from an attorney of course. However, in this case, it is certainly warranted. And the outcome could be positive as well, as Plotkin has already helped one defendant to get rid of the claim, without a settlement.
TorrentFreak also reached out to attorney Ken Clark of the law firm Aird & Berlis, which represents the movie outfits. He couldn’t provide any further details on how many people have been sued thus far and preferred not to disclose any further information.