Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Court balances copyright law and realities

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The Internet defies copyright law's constraints. Digital technology has challenged copyright like never before.

Unauthorized copying of an original work or performance has never been easy to detect and shut down using civil or criminal law sanctions. But, as books, music and movies are digitized, copyright law has struggled to keep up with the copying and rapid transmission of streams of electronic data.

Last month, the Federal Court in a pivotal decision ruled that Internet service provider (ISP) TekSavvy Solutions Inc. must disclose the identities of hundreds of its customers accused of illegal downloading. The court ordered the ISP to turn over to California film production company Voltage Pictures the names associated with about 2,000 Internet protocol addresses Voltage alleges illegally shared its films over a two-month period in 2012. Voltage owns a lot of movies, including acclaimed films such as Dallas Buyers Club and The Hurt Locker.

But in a compromise that nicely illustrates the contemporary stress on copyright law, and the courts that must enforce it, the ruling also discourages "copyright trolls" from setting up shop in Canada.

Copyright trolls use U.S. courts to identify Internet users accused of illegally sharing copyrighted works, mostly music and videos. They then send lawyers' letters to individuals, demanding they pay exorbitant settlements or face a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

To prevent this kind of legal coercion being imported to Canada, the ruling stipulated that Voltage's demand letters must be approved by the court and must expressly state that no court has yet determined any individual "has infringed or is liable in any way for payment of damages."

The decision strikes a balance between a copyright holder's right to pursue legal action when its work is stolen and discouraging American-style copyright-law profiteers.

The court's decision commits to preserving equitable copyright law. It not only tightens copyright owners' control over electronic downloading and sharing but also crafts rules to ensure consumers who breach copyright aren't themselves unjustly treated.

Copyright laws weren't designed for the digital age. They were a historical response to the printing press and mechanical-reproduction technology.

The ease and speed of exchange of information, music and video brought on by computers and the Internet have left the law and the courts scrambling to balance the competing interests of property rights and public use.

The court's decision, however, is a nice example of the law finally catching up with a digital world.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2014 A8

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