Top court makes it costlier to sue alleged online movie pirates
TORONTO A new ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada will make it more expensive for content rights holders to sue Canadians accused of distributing pirated movies.
That could dam a torrent of lawsuits threatening thousands of individuals with $5,000 fines for sharing a single movie.
The Supreme Court of Canada sided with internet service providers in a battle between Rogers Communications Inc. and Voltage Pictures LLC over who should foot the bill to track down the people accused of illegally sharing movies on networks like BitTorrent.
In a decision released Friday, the top court found that internet service providers are entitled to recover costs of finding and disclosing personal information.
“This is an important win for our customers and millions of internet subscribers facing open season on their personal information,” Rogers’ senior vice-president of regulatory affairs David Watt said in a statement.
But the drama isn’t over. The Supreme Court ordered a lower court to set a reasonable cost — which could make it prohibitively expensive or a bargain for movie rights holders to sue people suspected of illegal file sharing.
The legal battle stems from an attempt by Voltage, the movie production studio behind films including Dallas Buyers Club and The Hurt Locker, to launch a reverse class action lawsuit against 55,000 individuals at once.
When Voltage suspects illegal activity on an IP address, it notifies the internet service provider, who must then pass the notice to the account holder associated with the IP address. Such notices typically warn users to stop infringing or risk facing legal action.
Copyright law requires internet providers to participate in and absorb costs related to the “notice- and-notice” regime. But Rogers appealed a Federal Court ruling that found it had to pay to find an alleged infringer’s name and identity — information Voltage required to move forward with its lawsuit.
Internet providers must hand over these details if rights holders such as Voltage produce court orders called Norwich orders. But Rogers said the information is not easy to find because IP addresses are dynamic. It argued it should be able to recoup its costs for a process that it says takes 20 to 30 minutes per instance and costs about $100 per hour.