The Price of Privacy: Canada’s Top Court Rules, ISPs must disclose the identity of illegal downloaders at a “reasonable” cost

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By Scott Miller and Laura Crimi, October 29th, 2018

The Supreme Court of Canada sided with Rogers Communications in a recent 9-0 decision ruling that requires companies seeking to pursue copyright violators to remunerate internet service providers (ISPs) for looking up names of subscribers suspected of illegal activity.[1]

The Internet has long protected the identity of users participating in file sharing networks facilitating the rapid sharing of copyrighted content. The Government of Canada enacted the “notice and notice” regime as part of the Copyright Modernization Act in 2012 to deter online copyright infringement while balancing the rights of interested parties. Under the “notice and notice” regime, a rights owner is able to forward notice of alleged infringement to an ISP, the ISP is then obliged to forward the notice of infringement to the alleged wrongdoer. The “notice and notice” regime is “the first step in a process by which rights holders can go after those they allege are infringing… Then the rights holder can use that when they decide to take the alleged infringer to court.”[2] An ISP is not required to disclose the identity of a user who has received a notice of infringement under the “notice and notice” regime. ISPs are only required to disclose the identity of an individual who has received notice of infringement from a rights holder under a Court granted Norwich order, an extraordinary remedy that enables a rights holder to discover the identity of infringers from an internet intermediary like an ISP.

The recent ruling of Canada’s top Court in Rogers Communications Inc. v Voltage Pictures creates a new precedent allowing ISPs to charge rights holders for the costs associated with pursuing copyright violators in compliance with a Norwich order.

Voltage Pictures, the production studio behind I Feel Pretty and Oscar winning films including Dallas Buyers Club and The Hurt Locker, first brought the matter to trial in the Federal Court in 2014.[3] Voltage put forward a reverse class action and moved to compel Rogers Communications to provide the personal information of alleged infringers at no cost.[4] Rogers was originally ordered by the Federal Court to disclose the identity of the alleged infringer to Voltage and Voltage was ordered to pay Rogers $100 per hour, plus HST, for the time spent assembling the information. The decision was appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal, where it was found that Rogers was entitled to reasonable costs of the actual act of disclosure but the remainder of associated costs incurred by Rogers in compliance with a Norwich order was not recoverable.

As a result the recent Supreme Court decision, ISPs can now charge a “reasonable amount” for the efforts associated with looking up subscribers suspected of illegal activity under a Norwich order. However, the steps untaken by an ISP to comply with a Norwich order that overlap with an ISP’s obligations under the “notice and notice” regime may not be recoverable. The determination for what constitutes a “reasonable cost” was sent back to the lower court for a final decision. As a result of this Supreme Court decision, the amount of costs associated with identifying internet users suspected of illegal activity may impact the way in which rights holders pursue infringers. The traditional method of suing many internet users for copyright infringement at once may become cost prohibitive for rights holders like movie production studios upon the determination of what an ISP can reasonably charge for compliance with a Norwich Order.

For more information please contact:

 
Scott Miller, Partner, Head of the Litigation Department
T: 613.801.1099

E: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Laura Crimi, BScH, MSc, JD, Articling Student
T: 613.801.1098
E: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



[1] Rogers Communications Inc. v. Voltage Pictures, LLC 2018 SCC 38

[2] House of Commons, Legislative Committee on Bill C-32. Evidence, No. 19, 3rd Sess., 40th Parl., March 22, 2011, at p 10.

[3] 2014 FC 161 [Voltage 2014],


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