This week Canadian news outlets are reporting about a supposed new legal campaign against people who pirate movies and TV-shows via BitTorrent.
This includes an article from CBC, which featured a still from Game of Thrones, suggesting that downloaders of the popular HBO series are at risk too.
The coverage comes a bit as a surprise, because there is nothing new to these lawsuits. “Reverse class-action” suits have been ongoing for a few years in Canada now. Also, HBO or ‘Game of Thrones’ are not part of it.
The lawsuits in question are a variant of what is commonly known as “copyright trolling.” This practice is limited to a few movie production companies that have targeted hundreds of thousands of alleged pirates all over the world.
In Canada, we are aware of 18 of these lawsuits which target thousands of alleged pirates in total. These cases were filed by the rightsholders of films such as The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Mechanic: Resurrection, Criminal, London Has Fallen, and Dallas Buyers Club,
The defendants are listed as “John Does,” who are initially only known by their IP-addresses. After the movie companies obtain a Norwich order from the court, they obtain the contact details of these people, who they can then approach with a settlement demand.
This has led to settlements of thousands of dollars in some cases, where the maximum damages for non-commercial infringement is CAD$ 5,000.
As said before, this isn’t new. However, the news started rolling again following a tweet from Nova Scotia-based lawyer David Fraser, who posted a copy of a “statement of claim” online. The lawyer also pointed to an article, where the law firm offered help, suggesting that this is a ‘novel’ procedure.
“Using a novel legal procedure called a ‘reverse class-action’ Hollywood studios are consolidating what would otherwise be hundreds of lawsuits into just a handful of lawsuits,” the article reads.
This then led to a report on Mobilesyrup, where it was again suggested that this is a new phenomenon.
Interestingly, the date of the statement of claim is almost a year old now, which is a clear hint that this isn’t as fresh as some people think. Indeed, a reverse class-action lawsuit against alleged BitTorrent pirates was already filed in 2016, and many have followed since.
This week’s reporting shows that the cases have progressed quietly in the courts. That’s not a complete surprise, as they generally don’t go to trial. The goal of the movie outfits is to settle the matter out of court.
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That brings us to a final point of confusion. These settlement requests are entirely different from the automated settlements that ISPs forward via email. The latter practice is part of the notice-and-notice system. While these automated settlement requests were outlawed last year, they’re still coming in.
The letters that are part of a reverse class-action, which are delivered through the postal system, are entirely different. They are part of a legal proceeding and people who receive a statement of claim should not ignore it. Those who do face a default judgment, which is generally higher than a settlement.
Attorney James Plotkin of law firm CazaSaikaley previously informed us that it’s wise to consult an attorney instead.
“Get competent legal advice. It is important to understand the legal playing field. Defendants are not helpless in these actions, so ignoring the claim and allowing the plaintiff to proceed in obtaining a default judgment is probably not the best option for most people,” he said.
That is the type of advice one would expect from an attorney. However, in this case, it is certainly warranted. And the outcome could be positive as well, as Plotkin has already helped one defendant to get rid of the claim, without a settlement.
Summarizing, we can conclude that lawsuits continue to target alleged BitTorrent pirates in Canada. The cases are filed by a small number of movie production companies and have nothing to do with Game of Thrones.
Those who are unfortunate enough to get caught up in this should carefully research their options. Unlike the “notice-and-notice” emails, ignoring the legal paperwork is generally not a good option.
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