The misuse of Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has attracted considerable media and political attention over the past week. With revelations that some rights holders are requiring Internet providers to send notifications that misstate the law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations, the government has acknowledged that the notices are misleading and promised to contact providers and rights holders to stop the practice.
While the launch of the copyright system has proven to be an embarrassment for Industry Minister James Moore, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that many Canadians are still left wondering whether the law applies to Internet video streaming, which has emerged as the most popular way to access online video.
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As the misuse of the Canada’s copyright notice-and-notice system continues to attract attention, Industry Canada has taken the first step to try to alleviate public concern. The department has posted an advisory on the notice-and-notice system which seeks to assuage consumer concern, noting that U.S. copyright penalties do not apply in Canada and that the statutory damages cap for non-commercial infringement is C$5000. It also states:
- Receiving a notice does not necessarily mean that you have in fact infringed copyright or that you will be sued for copyright infringement.
- The Notice and Notice regime does not impose any obligations on a subscriber who receives a notice and it does not require the subscriber to contact the copyright owner or the intermediary.
This is important information that provides much needed context for the notices. As I noted last week, some Internet providers are forwarding similar information to their subscribers.
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Last week I posted on how Rightscorp, a U.S.-based anti-piracy company, was using Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system to require Internet providers to send threats and misstatements of Canadian law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations. Many Canadians may be frightened into a settlement payment since they will be unaware that some of the legal information in the notice is inaccurate and that Rightscorp and BMG do not know who they are.
The revelations attracted considerable attention (I covered the issue in my weekly technology law column – Toronto Star version, homepage version), with NDP Industry Critic Peggy Nash calling on the government to close the loophole that permits false threats. Nash noted that “Canadians are receiving notices threatening them with fines thirty times higher than the law allows for allegedly downloading copyrighted material. The Conservatives are letting these companies send false legal information to Canadians in order to scare them into paying settlements for movies or music no one has even proved they’ve actually downloaded.”
With the notices escalating as a political issue, Jake Enright, Industry Minister James Moore’s spokesman, said on Friday the government would take action. Enright said that “these notices are misleading and companies cannot use them to demand money from Canadians”, adding that government officials would be contacting ISPs and rights holders to stop the practice.
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The revelations that Rightscorp has been using the new copyright notice-and-notice system to force Internet providers to forward notifications with false copyright law information and demands for payment sparked considerable concern among many Canadian Internet users. In my post on the issue, I suggested two responses. First, the introduction of government regulations prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices and creating penalties for those companies that send notices with false or misleading information. Second, Internet service providers adding their own information to the notices, advising their subscribers on the true state of Canadian law and reassuring them that they have not disclosed their personal information to the notice sender.
While there has been no response from the government, some Canadian ISPs are providing their subscribers with much-needed context. For example, TechAeris has posted the message provided by Shaw Cablesystems, which states:
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Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has been in place for less than a week, but rights holders are already exploiting a loophole to send demands for payment citing false legal information. Earlier this week, a Canadian ISP forwarded to me a sample notice it received from Rightscorp on behalf of BMG Rights Management. The notice, which is posted below with identifying information removed, must be forwarded to the subscriber or the ISP faces the possibility of statutory damages of between $5 – 10,000. Rightscorp announced that it was entering the Canadian market last year, so its participation in the notice-and-notice system is not a surprise. What is surprising is that the company has brought its model of issuing demands for payments to Canada by warning of U.S. damage awards and Internet termination in order to stoke fear among Canadians that they could face massive liability if they refuse to pay.
The notice falsely warns that the recipient could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement when the reality is that Canadian law caps liability for non-commercial infringement at $5,000 for all infringements. The notice also warns that the user’s Internet service could be suspended, yet there is no such provision under Canadian law. Moreover, given the existence of the private copying system (which features levies on blank media such as CDs), personal music downloads may qualify as private copying and therefore be legal in Canada.
In addition to misstating Canadian law, the notice is instructive for what it does not say. While a recipient might fear a lawsuit with huge liability, there is very little likelihood of a lawsuit given that Rightscorp and BMG do not have the personal information of the subscriber. To obtain that information, they would need a court order, which can be a very expensive proposition. Moreover, this is merely an allegation that would need to be proven in court (assuming the rights holder is able to obtain a court order for the subscriber information).
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