Will new file-sharing lawsuits make headway in Canada? Probably not

But Voltage Pictures is already trying.

(Photo: John Foxx/Getty)

Well, that didn’t take long: Hollywood has come barging into Canada with file-sharing lawsuits aimed at people who may or may not have downloaded movies over BitTorrent, according to internet service provider TekSavvy.

The indie ISP reports that it has been served with a request for customer information by Voltage Pictures, the Los Angeles-based producer of The Hurt Locker. The company is seeking the release of the identities of 2,000 customers so that it can go ahead and sue them under the new copyright laws that recently came into force.

As copyright expert Michael Geist writes, the next step will involve a court hearing next week where a judge will determine whether TekSavvy will have to release the info. The ISP, to its credit, is resisting doing so. If the court does indeed force the company to divulge names, Voltage is expected to forge ahead with the lawsuits or offer settlements to alleged infringers.

The development is interesting for several reasons. On the one hand, as both TekSavvy head Marc Gaudrault and my Maclean’s colleague Jesse Brown point out, lawsuits against individuals seem to go against what the government intended with its copyright modernization. As Heritage Minister James Moore has insisted, “it’s not industry’s business to go out there and sue their customers.”

It looks like the good minister should be eating his words right about now.

But more poignantly, in the United States this sort of thing is frowned upon. Some judges have pulled no punches in cases where plaintiffs have offered settlements to defendants, essentially branding them as copyright trolls. As Judge Otis D. Wright in the Central District of California put it, “The federal courts are not cogs in a plaintiff’s copyright-enforcement business model. The Court will not idly watch what is essentially an extortion scheme, for a case that plaintiff has no intention of bringing to trial.”

Extortion indeed. Earlier this summer, a group of sue-ees decided to strike back with a class-action lawsuit against porn companies who were trolling for similar settlements.

The Voltage lawsuits may actually be a good thing for Canada. With any luck, some of them will actually go to trial, in which case the court can determine appropriate damages. The new copyright laws allow penalties for non-commercial infringement of between $100 and $5,000. Any sane judge is likely to arrive at one conclusion—that $100 is more than appropriate—in which case Hollywood can buzz off because such cases won’t be worth anyone’s time.