If you're caught illegally downloading, you could be fined $5,000
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Additional provisions of Canada's new copyright law came into effect on Jan. 1.
One of these provisions may result in you, or someone you know, receiving a letter from your Internet service provider (e.g. Telus, Shaw) that is being forwarded at the behest of a copyright holder.
Such a letter may contain intimidating language and a demand for money to cover alleged copyright infringement and "make the case go away."
These monetary demands can be quite significant (over $100,000 is being reported in some examples). However, these demands have no basis in Canadian law, as the new legislation caps infringement penalties at $5,000 for a single person.
As $5,000 is a maximum penalty, something rarely assigned, especially on new and untested legislation, it is unlikely that a copyright holder is going to seek legal remedy from an individual.
It may seem odd, but the best current advice from experts in computer and privacy law is to ignore such letters. Since the letters are being forwarded by Internet providers to users of otherwise unidentified IP addresses, the copyright holders do not actually know the names of people to whom the letters are being sent. If you reply to such a letter then of course your name becomes known.
There is a pending Federal Court of Canada case which will test whether ISPs should divulge the names of potential copyright violators. This is becoming known as the Teksavvy case, as it involves 1,000 or so downloaders who use that ISP.
In the United States it has been routine to have ISPs identify end users to copyright holders. Furthermore, it has been routine there to see end users pay up when they receive such demand letters.
It was the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that successfully ran a campaign to "shake down" file sharers, even when some were sharing content unwittingly.
In most of the U.S. cases the RIAA targeted university students with demands in the range of a few thousand dollars. In most of those cases the students simply paid up, as it would have cost substantially more to take on the RIAA in court.
One particularly notorious case did go to trial. It became known as the Jammie Thomas case. Ms. Thomas was alleged to have downloaded, and shared, some 24 songs. She refused an initial settlement offer of $5,000.
After a 2007 trial she was assessed $222,000 in damages. The case subsequently went through many appeals, each being a loss for Thomas. Penalties reached as high as $1.9 million, but eventually, at the last trial, were set at the original $222,000, or just over $9,000 per song.
Quite a few of my students are serious "downloaders." I know this because I always begin my computer classes with an analysis of how many downloads the students have made. We then talk about the law in Canada regarding downloading of copyright content (I note that until this school year there was effectively no law) and the ethical issues at play.
"Top" downloaders in the school have typically pulled down about 3,000 music tracks and 100 or so movies. Likely one or more of these students' families will be receiving one of these copyright infringement letters.
It is not unreasonable to assume that some of the readers of this column are also downloaders and, consequently, may receive such a letter.
An organization by the name of CANIPRE, which itself is being paid by major movie studios and other organizations representing recording and performing artists, is behind the demand letters being issued in Canada. CANIPRE says it has several million IP addresses of copyright violators in Canada in just the past 60 days!
Are you among that number of several million?
Canada's Copyright Modernization Act makes it unlikely that we'll see a Jammie Thomas case here. It is more likely that CANIPRE, and perhaps other bodies representing recording artists, will target a few high-profile downloaders running commercial operations.
For now, though, we have to see what comes of the Teksavvy case.