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Caution — copyright trolls at work

April 22, 2014

torrent-trouble

Thanks to changes two years ago in Canadian copyright law, so-called “copyright trolls,” working for American movie companies, are now able to directly put Canadians on notice when they catch them allegedly sharing copyrighted content.

Thousands of such notices have already been emailed to Canadian Internet users. A street person I know received one from Shaw Cablesystems two weeks ago. It began in part as they all do:

…We have been notified by a content owner that your Internet Protocol (IP) address has been associated with copyright infringement…we are obliged to forward to you the attached copy of the content owner’s notice…

They are obliged by provisions in Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act — Bill C-11 — passed into law at the end of 2012.

The email explained that Shaw was simply acting as a messenger and proceeded to deliver the message:

We are writing this message on behalf of [Big American Studio].

We have received information that an individual has utilized the below-referenced IP address at the noted date and time to offer
downloads of copyrighted material [emphasis mine].

The title in question is: [film you would never pay to see in a theatre].

The rest of the message was aimed at Shaw and implored the company to take steps to stop the subscriber from engaging in the unauthorized downloading or uploading of copyright content belonging to [Big American Studio].

So what does this mean for my homeless buddy and for the thousands of Canadians who have received identical notices? What can they expect?

Our American future

For the time being, Canadian ISP subscribers who are repeatedly caught allegedly sharing copyrighted material via peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Bittorrent can expect to receive more notices from their ISP.

Copyright trolls such as the Australian-based IP-Echelon are combing through the Internet and tracking the sharing of copyrighted content.

The best they can do is pin specific instances of file sharing to computer IP addresses.

Every computer accessing the Net is assigned an IP address. If a computer accesses the Net using an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as Shaw Cablesystems, the computer can be linked by its IP address back to Shaw.

When IP-Echelon finds a computer involved in file sharing that is using an IP address associated with Shaw, they email a copyright violation notice to Shaw.

Under Canadian copyright law Shaw is obliged to forward the violation notice to the subscriber who was assigned the IP address at the time of the alleged copyright violation. Currently the law does not require Shaw to hand over subscriber information to the copyright trolls. but the law is about to change.

Soon you won’t “notice” any difference

If the ISP detects that the subscriber has indeed accessed illegitimate materials, the ISP delivers a warning to the subscriber informing them that downloading copyrighted content is illegal. If the subscriber continues to access illegitimate content, the warning will occur once or twice more. The third and fourth warning require the subscriber to acknowledge that they received alerts for accessing illegitimate content. After this stage, the fifth warning disables access to websites until a phone number is called for “educational information regarding copyright”. The sixth and final warning gives discretion to the ISP to impose further sanctions such as temporarily throttling bandwidth. It should be noted that complete cessation of internet usage is not one of the sanctions proposed in the US. – See more at: http://www.travel-british-columbia.com/articles/view/The-Copyright-Police-Are-Active/2933/446/#sthash.j16s51Xo.dpuf

The system of ISP-forwarded copyright violation notices brought in with Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act of 2012 is called “notice and notice.” It’s similar to the notification method required in the United States since 1998 but it is supposed to differ in one very important regard.

According to this description of the  provisions in Bill C-11, in addition to forwarding the infringement notification to the identified subscriber, the ISP must store the subscriber’s IP information for six months or a year if court action results from the infringement.

Failing to comply could cost the ISP statutory damages of CAN$5,000 to $10,000.

Under the current Canadian process ISPs are not obliged to hand over any subscriber information to the copyright holders.

But new Canadian legislation is working its way through the Canadian Parliament that will allow companies to share customer information with other companies if they believe there has been a breach of agreement, or a case of fraud.

Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act, was introduced in the upper house of the Canadian Parliament on April 8. If passed into law, it will give agents of the content providers the right to demand and receive subscriber information from Canadian ISPs — a right they have enjoyed in the United States since 1998.

This will make it much easier for U.S. companies, and their agents the copyright trolls, to pursue legal actions against Canadians for alleged copyright violations. According to this report in the National Post U.S. companies have been known seek as much as CAN$75,000 or more for violations.

Doing things the American Way

A Travel BC page, describes the graduated warning process used in the United States which is called “notice and take down.”

The third and fourth warnings may require the subscriber to acknowledge that they received alerts for accessing illegal content. The fifth warning might disable access to websites until a phone number is called for “educational information regarding copyright.” And the sixth and final warning might lead to the ultimate sanction, which apparently isn’t kicking a person offline but rather throttling their bandwidth, which can mean anything from slowing down their connection speed generally of just throttling the life out of their ability to use Bittorrent and other identifiable peer-to-peer file sharing methods.

American ISPs must promptly remove illegal content from the reach of their subscribers whether this means removing the actual content or blocking their subscribers from being able to access it. Failure to do so exposes ISPs to legal liability for making illegal content available.

The American sanction of having an ISP throttle the life out of a subscriber’s ability to use P2P file sharing such as Bittorrent probably won’t work in Canada for the simple fact that so many Canadian ISPs already throttle P2P for all their subscribers whether they use it or not.

Copyright trolls and the business of extortion

Many copyright trolls make money in the United States in a way similar to companies that buy credit card debt — by threatening to sue individuals for tens of thousands of dollars unless the individuals  pay a smaller sum of a few thousands of dollars. To practice their business model in  Canada they need what Bill S-4 promises to give them, names and addresses of alleged copyright violators.

So far the trolls have been simply amassing records of alleged violations in Canada; they’ve had no way of connecting those records to people. In the United States trolls take their records for a specific ISP to a judge and get a court order forcing the ISP to hand over all the names and addresses associated with the IP address activities. Then the trolls can start blasting all those people with demand letters telling them to pay up or else. Ka-ching!

Bill S-4 seems to give trolls the missing piece they need to do the same thing in Canada.

If the ISP detects that the subscriber has indeed accessed illegitimate materials, the ISP delivers a warning to the subscriber informing them that downloading copyrighted content is illegal. If the subscriber continues to access illegitimate content, the warning will occur once or twice more. The third and fourth warning require the subscriber to acknowledge that they received alerts for accessing illegitimate content. After this stage, the fifth warning disables access to websites until a phone number is called for “educational information regarding copyright”. The sixth and final warning gives discretion to the ISP to impose further sanctions such as temporarily throttling bandwidth. It should be noted that complete cessation of internet usage is not one of the sanctions proposed in the US. – See more at: http://www.travel-british-columbia.com/articles/view/The-Copyright-Police-Are-Active/2933/446/#sthash.j16s51Xo.dpuf

Content providers are already changing the rules in court

One U.S. film company may — or may not — have gotten an early Christmas present when a Canadian Federal Court judge, two months ago, ordered a Canadian ISP to hand over the names and addresses of subscribers suspected of illegally “downloading” movies.

Interestingly, some experts are arguing that the order that ISP TekSavvy must hand over the names of about 2000 subscribers to California film production company Voltage Pictures is actually a blow against copyright trolls!

Apparently the carefully-crafted decision places so many stipulations on how Voltage can use the subscriber information that it makes the harvesting of subscribers too individually time-consuming to be profitable for copyright trolls.

Stop sharing your Wi-Fi and your downloads

No one likes to be blamed for things they didn’t do but these copyright violation notices aren’t based on what people do but rather on what was done with their IP address.

If you have an ISP such as Shaw or Telus providing you with home Internet and a Wi-Fi router then you should make sure you have a secure password. Anyone who has access to your home Wi-Fi signal will be accessing the Internet using your connection and you will be blamed for any illegal file sharing they engage in.

When you access the Internet from free public Wi-Fi, say in a coffee house, your connection is assigned a random IP address which is of little use in tracking your activity.

A second point is that what appears to be illegal isn’t downloading copyrighted material but sharing it.

Bittorrent, like all P2P file sharing systems is built on a distributed model — one computer downloads a given file from many available sources simultaneously. That one computer likewise becomes one of the sources for other downloaders. Each computer in a Bittorrent network is meant to be uploading even as it’s downloading.

In your Bittorrent client’s settings you can control both your download and upload speeds. You can even turn off uploading altogether. It will severely impact your ability to download but it may keep you on the right side of the law.

The copyright notices themselves are quite specific. The IP address was used “to offer downloads of copyrighted material.”

Canada’s copyright law — defining the grey areas

Aside from opening Canada’s door to the copyright trolls of the world, Canada’s 2012 Copyright Modernization Act — Bill C-11 — cleared up some of the legal confusion around activities that potentially put otherwise law-abiding, right-thinking, Canadians on the wrong side of the law.

It’s now legal to record TV shows (which most people have been doing since the 1980s), back up your software (common since the 1990s) and move media between devices (early 2000s).

The law also broadens the scope of the so-called “fair dealing exception” which covers a person’s right to quote portions of copyrighted material without permission or payment. The accepted purposes have been increased to include: research, private study, news reporting, criticism, review, education, satire, and parody.

The law legalizes the use of copyrighted audio and video content for the creation of non-commercial fan videos, such as mash-ups, anime music videos and video clips from the the 2004 film Downfall showing Hitler getting an iPod instead of a Sansa.


On January 13, 2015, I received email from the Australian company IP-Echelon taking strong issue with my referring to the company as a “copyright troll”.

In the email, IP-Echelon stated its opinion that “a ‘copyright troll’ generally refers to an organization who opportunistically litigates against end-users for profit”.

They wanted me to understand that “IP-Echelon has never been in the practice of making financial demands to end-users nor has it ever requested a user’s identity from an ISP”.

I’m happy to include the clarification.

However, “copyright troll” is a general term referring to a company which tracks peer-to-peer file downloads for profit; that profit may be from paying clients or litigation or whatever.

IP-Echelon tracks P2P file downloads as the paid agent of major content producers and the company has been referred to in the mainstream media as a “copyright troll” more times than I can count.

From → Internet

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