The tempest continues in Canada, and globally, regarding issues of copyright law, consumers of media, Internet service providers, and content producers/owners of media. Many legal considerations focusing on copyright and distribution have been evolving and expanding since the early days of the internet and a range of financial, technical, and ethical issues continues to challenge and test the law in this area. While technology undoubtedly brought about a revolution in access, distribution and availability of media, it also brought about an opportunity for each player in the chain of creation, distribution, and consumption to attempt to maximize their position in the shifting landscape. In general, balance has not been the word of the day, and it has often fallen to the government and the courts to intervene in an attempt to find a fair, reasonable, and equitable balance in this area of law.
The latest ruling in this long running skirmish has wide-reaching implications. The Supreme Court of Canada has come down with a ruling in the case of Rogers Communications Inc. v Voltage Pictures, LLC wherein the Court sided with Rogers. It found that companies pursuing copyright violators should have to reimburse internet service providers for certain efforts in finding and disclosing the information of subscribers who have allegedly violated the law. In essence, it's a decision as to who should bear the costs in the hunt for those consumers who may have illegally shared or downloaded copyrighted media. As specific as the ruling is, the effects, at scale, could have real impact on the entire process given the potential sum of monies involved.
In this case, Voltage was attempting to sue Rogers subscribers with the goal of a "reverse" class action copyright lawsuit. Voltage, using surveillance software, had identified the IP addresses of thousands of users of file sharing software who they suspected of downloading movies they owned. Voltage then undertook Norwich orders to have the ISP disclose the identity and data of the subscribers associated with the IP addresses in question. In fulfilling these requests Rogers claimed that each undertaking took 20 to 30 minutes at a cost of $100 per hour and this would result in a charge back to Voltage of $2.75 million for this one action alone. The initial ruling on this case in 2016 by the Federal Court decided that Rogers did have the right to charge Voltage for their work; however, this was overturned on appeal in 2017. Rogers responded by appealing to the Supreme Court.
The court ruled that Rogers does have the right to charge but, at the same time, it has turned the issue back to the Federal Court to determine what a reasonable cost is for the ISP to execute this type of court order. The result is important given that it is estimated that there are about one million warnings in Canada that go out every month regarding the downloading of movies illegally. The sums involved in pursuing these actions at scale could be very substantial to content rights holders if they continue to be aggressive in this area.
The overall effects may be broad. For consumers who do not break any copyright laws there may be additional costs involved as copyright holders and ISPs determine the need to pass on any new costs that they incur. For those accused of illegally downloading content there is still the real issue of equating a specific IP address with any given individual who may or may not have committed an illegal act. For ISPs, and specifically content owners, there is the realization of the considerable costs involved in pursuing these actions in a blanket fashion against consumers.
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