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Rightscorp criticised over its use of new Canadian copyright alert law

By | Published on Tuesday 13 January 2015


Canadian copyright law recently changed so that internet service providers are now obliged to pass on copyright infringement notices to allegedly infringing customers when said alerts are provided to them by rights owners.

It’s a statutory process that is similar to the voluntarily Copyright Alert System operated by many big net firms in the US, and has parallels to the graduated response section of the UK’s 2010 Digital Economy Act, which is meant to be finally going live via the Creative Content UK initiative announced last year.

Though one American anti-piracy firm has already come under fire for misusing the Canadian system by putting misleading information in the notices it has asked ISPs to forward to their customers.

Rightscorp, which works for both music and movie industry clients, routinely attaches settlement forms to its copyright alert notices, urging infringers to pay a $20 fine for infringing content owned by one of its clients.

The form usually tells the recipient that if he or she were to be sued by the rights owner for the infringement they could be ordered to pay damages of $150,000 per infringement, which is the upper limit of damages that American courts can award when copyrights are infringed. But paying the $20 fine no questions asked will bring an end to the matter.

And, according to Torrentfreak, that very form with that very messaging has been attached to alerts being sent out under the new Canadian system. Except under Canadian law the maximum damages for non-commercial copyright infringement is $5000.

And the Canadian government isn’t happy with Rightscorp misleading its citizens in this way, with a rep for the country’s Industry Minister saying: “These notices are misleading and companies cannot use them to demand money from Canadians”.

ISPs in Canada are now being advised that copyright notices such as those being issued by Rightscorp should not be forwarded to customers, though it’s not clear whether that means notices should not include the $20 settlement form at all, or whether such forms will be allowed providing they contain Canadian rather than American law.

The mass-mailing of settlement forms by rights owner to suspected infringers hasn’t been without controversy, and some ISPs won’t forward that element of a copyright alert. They’d argue that such fines turn the anti-piracy effort into a business in itself, and given that rights owner monitoring of online content distribution isn’t wholly accurate, users might end up paying a fine for an alleged infringement which wouldn’t stack up in court.

And by paying the fine on one bit of content, a net user is providing Rightscorp with their name and address – as opposed to just their IP address and ISP info – which might allow the anti-piracy firm to demand further fines for other infringements.

That said rights owners might argue that it’s more than likely that recipients of these forms have indeed infringed, that a $20 fine is a fair deal, and that rights owners should be allowed to at least recoup the costs of running an anti-piracy programme. Though they still ought not bully that money out of alleged infringers by citing the wrong country’s law.