The Federal Court in Toronto has finally ruled in a case involving US-based movie studio Voltage Pictures (“The Hurt Locker”) filed against 2,000 anonymous Internet subscribers of Canadian ISP Teksavvy.
Voltage used data gathered by anti-piracy company Canipre, who tracked the Teksavvy customers downloading and sharing their movies online; Armed with that data, the company wanted Teksavvy to hand over the alleged infringers' names and addresses. The court has spent a lot of time on this case, in part due to third parties such as the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) getting involved to protect the subscribers’ rights. CIPPIC believes Voltage are nothing more than "copyright trolls" seeking to settle quickly with alleged infringers
CIPPIC contends that Teksavvy shouldn’t hand any information over to Voltage, because doing so would "infringe the privacy rights of the subscribers and may affect the scope of protection offered to anonymous online activity."
But in its ruling the Federal Court in Toronto basically highlighted the importance of copyright while at the same time calling Voltage a "copyright troll."
"Privacy considerations should not be a shield for wrongdoing and must yield to an injured party’s request for information from non-parties. This should be the case irrespective of the type of right the claimant holds," the Court writes in its ruling. "Copyright is a valuable asset which should not be easily defeated by infringers. The difficulty in this case is that it is not clear that the protection of copyright is the sole motivating factor supporting Voltage’s claim in this Court. [Evidence] suggests but does not prove that Voltage may have ulterior motives in commencing this action and may be a copyright troll.”
The Federal Court noted in its ruling that evidence exists to show that Voltage is a troll-like operation but the evidence was not compelling enough to put the brakes on the exercise. It also ruled that, while Voltage has a right to the subscriber information held by Teksavvy following the issue of a relevant order, it will maintain control over the process by appointing a Case Management Judge to monitor “the conduct of Voltage in its dealings with the alleged infringers.”
Any settlement letters sent out by Voltage will have to be approved by the Court and CIPPIC, and must include a copy of the court order and a clear statement that no court has found any recipient liable for infringement or liable to pay damages. Teksavvy must be fully reimbursed for their costs incurred when handing over information, which will be restricted to names and addresses only, the court ruled. This information may not be handed to any other entity, including to the public or media.
The Federal Court has certainly found a unique way to handle this type of large-scale action against alleged infringers. It will also keep Voltage from wording settlement letters in a way that hints that a judgment against the alleged infringer has occurred. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, how much the settlement amount asked for by Voltage is and if the company can follow the restriction set forth by the court.
If this is the new way Canadian courts handle these bulk copyright infringement cases, it could turn the business of threatening and settling a less profitable endeavor. Stay tuned.