Dozens of Canadians alleged to have pirated the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker have been sent letters demanding they cough up thousands of dollars to settle claims against them, according to a leading e-commerce expert.
In a blog post Friday, University of Ottawa professor and Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law Michael Geist said sources have told him demand letters, similar to ones that have already been sent in the U.S., are in the mail.
Copyright owners of the 2009 film obtained a court order earlier this fall requiring major Internet service providers including Bell, Videotron (which shares a parent company with this publication) and Cogeco to reveal the identities of dozens of subscribers alleged to have illegally downloaded the movie. In the U.S., subscribers face demands from lawyers working on behalf of Voltage Pictures to pay $2,900 apiece to settle the case. The fee rises to $3,900 if the target does not accept the offer within three weeks, Geist said. The accused can pay by credit card.
A legitimate Blu-ray copy of The Hurt Locker retails for about $32.99.
Canada's Bill C-11 attempts to protect otherwise law-abiding Internet users who download pirated content with a $5,000 cap on liability as long as the content is not being used to make money.
"The Hurt Locker case suggests that does not go far enough," Geist said.
Instead, Geist would like to see statutory damages in non-commercial cases scrapped altogether, like in other countries. That would allow copyright owners to claim the full $20,000 liability for each commercial infringement, but they should be required to present evidence of actual damages.
"Without such a change, the government is still leaving the door open to thousands of potential lawsuits against individuals," Geist said.
Ted East, president of the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters (CAFDE), has said Canada needs legislation that targets heavy illegal file sharers, not average Internet users. He also said Canadians need more education on the issue of online piracy.
"A significant portion of the population in Canada, particularly younger people, have grown up in an environment where piracy seems to be okay, where it has no consequences," he said.
Anyone who has received the letter demanding payment is encouraged to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to share their story.