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Film, TV studios filing lawsuits against Canadian BitTorrent users

If you received a piece of registered mail from a movie studio looking to sue you for illegally downloading a TV show such as Game of Thrones, a Canadian privacy lawyer in Nova Scotia says you need to take it seriously.

If ignored, there could be a high price to pay.

“They can get a default judgment and they can go for the maximum, which is $5,000,” David Fraser told CBC Radio’s Mainstreet on Tuesday.

“And that could become a lien on your house, that could become garnishment of your salary and it’s not something you can just hope will go away.”

For years, studios have been cracking down on people illegally downloading shows and movies by targeting suspects through sending notices to their internet providers.

Under Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act, internet service providers have to track the IP addresses of users who are illegally downloading.

How names, addresses are revealed

Now, studios are identifying an IP address, suing the unknown person associated with that address and then getting a Norwich order through the Federal Court of Canada against the internet service provider to obtain the customer’s name and address.

Fraser said his firm has been contacted by a number of individuals who have received a letter. He said the letters can appear to be “a little bit sketchy,” but they are legitimate.

They’re being sent to the homes of the IP address holders, but are addressed to “John Doe” from the movie studio. The statement of claim says “John Doe,” but the letter accompanying it is to the intended defendant.

David Fraser says his law firm has heard from half a dozen people who’ve received registered letters that are part of an effort by production companies to discourage illegal downloading of copyrighted videos. He’s a lawyer in Halifax who specializes in internet and privacy issues. He speaks with guest host Carolyn Ray. 10:48

“And so you’re thinking, I’m not John Doe. But when you go through it, it’s obviously full of a whole lot of legalese and comes with a cover letter from a law firm in Toronto saying that you are, in fact, being sued,” Fraser said.

From there, Fraser said the IP address holder is told in the letter that he or she has 30 days from the date of receiving the letter and statement of claim to file a defence.

If the IP address holder doesn’t file a defence, Fraser said the studio could get a default judgment against them and then collect their damages.

Fraser said the letters are targeting users of BitTorrent sites, which allow people to download chunks of a movie or TV show from multiple sources.

“When you’re using that protocol, you’re also one of the 50 [sharing it] … which means that you’re exposing your internet protocol address, your IP address associated with your home network, to anybody who wants to see it,” Fraser said.

“And that includes movie studios who hire companies to keep track of what IP addresses are associated with downloading and sharing their content.”

Fraser said he suspects studios are taking this approach to reduce the availability of this content online.

“And if they can do that by a chilling effect, by putting the fear of God and litigation into people’s hearts, then kind of mission accomplished I would think from their point of view,” he said.

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