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Trying to Prosecute Online Piracy in Canada? Good Luck!

BY Elisabeth Fraser | Wednesday, June 12 2013

Google image via Allen Mendelsohn's blog.

A private firm that is monitoring Canadians who download pirated content online has found itself at the center of a legal battle.

Canipre, a firm based in Montreal, Quebec, has spent the past few months monitoring illegal downloaders. Their managing director, Barry Logan, says they now have more than a million “evidence files”. A U.S-based movie company, Voltage Pictures, is before the Ontario courts trying to get their hands on those files. Teksavvy, an Internet service provider, has intervened to stop Voltage, since — surprise, surprise — many of the IP addresses Canipre has collected belong to Teksavvy clients.

“I think that Teksavvy is right to protect their client's information. Canipre is on a fishing expedition and nothing more,” says Travis McCrea, Leader of the Pirate Party of Canada, a political party which supports things like net neutrality and online privacy rights. McCrae dismisses Canipre as “copyright trolls” and says going after individuals accused of pirating will clog up Canadian courts with frivolous cases.

Following the news of Voltage’s lawsuit, the Pirate Party conducted their own online investigation. In partnership with TorrentFreak, they decided to have a closer look at what Industry Canada (the federal government’s industry department) and the national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were up to online.

“Our investigation has revealed that quite a lot of unlicensed material has been downloaded from within both the RCMP and Industry Canada,” the Pirate Party writes on their website. Movies Canada’s leading industry workers and top cops are downloading appear to include The Fast and the Furious, The Smurfs, and Hunger Games.

“You can find 'piracy' almost anywhere, but the problem is the inability to track it down to a single person,” says McCrae. “An IP address means nothing, there are plenty of open WiFi networks, and even closed WiFi networks are not difficult to break into.”

It seems doubtful that Voltage’s case will lead to major changes in the penalties Canadians will face for online piracy. Bill C-11, passed last year, placed a cap of $5,000 (CAD) on what Canadians could be fined for downloading illegal content. That’s in sharp contrast to the United States, where citizens can face massive fines or even jail time for pirating content.

John Jordan is a Montreal-based musician who says he often downloads movies and TV shows online. He’s unconcerned about the court case. “If I realized that my ISP (address) could be next on their list, and they could come after me and get my records, I don’t know if I would change my downloading,” he says. “I might just stand my ground and fight.”

“I truly believe that the courts will rule in favour of Teksavvy, but I also am aware that courts are sometimes naive [about] how technology works,” says McCrae, who describes his attitude as, “cautiously optimistic." But he says that even if Voltage succeeds in obtaining Canipre’s data, he expects fines will be “minimal,” as Canada’s intellectual property rights laws are “pretty lax,” adding, “I don’t see how Canipre’s business model is going to work.”

For his part, Jordan remains unworried in the face of a Voltage victory, no matter how unlikely. In the event that would happen, “There would probably be someone who would rise to the occasion and would launch a class action suit against (Canipre), and I would like to think I’d be part of that.” At worst, Jordan laughs, “I’m out $5,000. And they can have fun coming after me for that.”

Elisabeth Fraser is a freelance Canadian journalist. She lives in Montreal.

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