After a two-year court battle, the studio behind the blockbuster film The Hurt Locker will soon be able to pursue legal action against those in Canada who are alleged to have illegally downloaded its films.
Voltage Pictures lawyer claims it's a precedent setting decision that will make it much cheaper for companies to pursue those who illegally download films and other content in Canada. But digital policy experts dont believe theres cause for other film and television studios to celebrate just yet.
In 2012 Voltage Pictures filed a lawsuit, seeking to obtain the names and addresses of internet service provider (ISP) TekSavvy Solutions Inc.s customers who were believed to have downloaded the studios films. Two years later, a Toronto Federal Court ruled in favour of Voltages claimbut ordered the studio to pay TekSavvy the reasonable costs associated with obtaining this information from the ISPs systems.
When the two parties couldnt come to an agreement, the case again returned to court. But on Tuesday, a Toronto federal court finally ruled how much Voltage should have to pay.
While TekSavvy had asked for nearly $350,000, Voltage claimed it should cost under $1,000 for customer information to be obtained. Ultimately, the court ruled that Voltage must pay just $22,000 for information associated with the 2,114 IP addresses flagged by the studio for allegedly downloading copyrighted content.
We believe its a very important decision because its doesnt make it cost-prohibitive to pursue downloaders, said James Zibarras, the lawyer representing Voltage Pictures. We see it as a green light by the courtthat the court recognizes the importance of this kind of lawsuit that pursues illegal downloading and protects copyright holders.
But Bram Abramson, Teksavvy chief legal and regulatory officer, said his company was disappointed by that narrow reading [...] because that leaves our customers to cover [the costs]. Abramson disagreed with Voltages lawyers evaluation of the case, citing a line from the judges decision: The precedential value of this particular assessment is quite limited as my findings are confined to the facts of this case, the judge wrote.
Its sends a disappointing messages to Internet providers who want to step up and protect the privacy of their customers because, in a sense, many of the costs associated with that will not be compensated, said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and digital policy expert, in an interview with Motherboard.
Asked whether Voltage would proceed with suing individual customers, Zibarras said he was scheduled to speak with the company later this week. I do know theyve been pretty eager to pursue these downloaders and have waited for a quite a long time for the court to make a decision, he said.
But the decision doesnt necessarily mean that Canada will be flooded with similar lawsuits in the coming months. In a significant way, a lot of this has been altered by the Copyright Modernization Act, said David Fraser, a lawyer at Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper.
The bill came into force this January, and requires ISPs to forward copyright notices from rights holders to customersbut without disclosing a customers personal information. Known as the notice-and-notice program, it also caps personal liability for illegal downloading at $5,000, making lawsuits financially less attractive.
They cant have the big win they might otherwise had by going to the court, Fraser said.
Correction, March 18: An earlier version of this article's headline stated that Canadians who had downloaded "The Hurt Locker" may soon be taken to court. This is incorrect. Although produced by Voltage Pictures, "The Hurt Locker" was not amongst the downloaded films that Voltage Pictures monitored.