#CyberFLASH: How a file-sharing lawsuit against Rogers threatens your Internet privacy: Geist

hurt-locker2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x612The centrepiece of Canada’s 2012 digital copyright reforms was the legal implementation of the “notice-and-notice” system that seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders, the privacy rights of Internet users and the legal obligations of Internet service providers (ISPs).

The law makes it easy for copyright owners to send infringement notices to ISPs, who are legally required to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The personal information of subscribers is not disclosed to the copyright owner.

Despite the promise of the notice-and-notice system, it has been misused virtually from the moment it took effect, with copyright owners exploiting a loophole in the law by sending settlement demands within the notices.

The government has tried to warn recipients that they need not settle — the Office of Consumer Affairs advises that there are no obligations on a subscriber that receives a notice and that getting a notice does not necessarily mean you will be sued — yet many subscribers panic when they receive notifications and promptly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.

While the government has been slow to implement an easy fix for the problem in the form of regulations prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices, another issue looms on the legal horizon that could eviscerate the privacy protections associated with the system.

Earlier this year, Voltage Pictures, which previously engaged in a lengthy court battle to require Canadian ISPs to disclose the names of alleged file sharers, adopted a new legal strategy. While the company obtained an order to disclose names in the earlier case, it came with conditions and costs. Its latest approach involves filing a reverse class action lawsuit against an unknown number of alleged uploaders of five of its movies.

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