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Big brother hunts movie downloaders

A Canadian Internet service provider has been ordered to hand over the names and addresses of about 2,000 customers who allegedly downloaded movies online.

A Federal Court decision released Thursday compels Ontario-based TekSavvy to identify the customers allegedly linked to downloads of films by the U.S. production company Voltage Pictures, which is behind the likes of "The Hurt Locker," "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Don Jon."

As a result, those TekSavvy customers could eventually receive a letter from Voltage threatening legal action. Under the federal Copyright Act, statutory damages for non-commercial infringement range between $100 and $5,000.

But while the court sided with Voltage's efforts to go after copyright violators, it sought to protect against the company acting "inappropriately in the enforcement of its rights to the detriment of innocent Internet users."

"On the facts of this case, there is some evidence that Voltage has been engaged in litigation which may have an improper purpose. However, the evidence is not sufficiently compelling for this court at this juncture in the proceeding to make any definitive determination of the motive of Voltage," wrote judge Kevin Aalto.

Aalto ordered that before Voltage can send a letter to the alleged downloaders, it must return to court to get the wording of its communications cleared by a case management judge.

"In order to ensure there is no inappropriate language in any demand letter sent to the alleged infringers, the draft demand letter will be provided to the court for review," Aalto wrote.

Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic Director David Fewer said his read of the decision is that the court would not be eager to assign penalties at the higher range of what the Copyright Act allows.

"If Voltage is asking for figures in excess of ($100) I think the court is going to shut them down pretty darn quickly," Fewer said.

"And if that's the case I think Voltage is done because this is no longer a viable business model. And that's what the whole copyright troll thing is about, it's about using the court process to get settlements that are in excess of what you could get for (actual) damages to scare people into settling."

Fewer said he was happy that the court will vet any letters that Voltage sends to alleged copyright offenders, since they're typically designed to scare people into settling a case.

"A lot of people just pay the settlement rather than deal with the uncertainty and the anxiety of the claim and the model is predicated on that," he said.

"Certain people are risk averse and it's cheaper to settle rather than to hire a lawyer to deal with it, even if you are innocent."

Lawyers for Voltage did not immediately respond to an interview request.

The Canadian Press

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