Wednesday, August 29, 2018

More On Mass Copyright Litigation in Canada – Part I

I have recently written about the Voltage “reverse class action” copyright infringement lawsuit wherein Voltage is trying to sue 50,000 or so people for an effective filing fee of about $0.001 per defendant, and in which Voltage has so far has been unwilling to pay $75,000 for security of costs, despite having been ordered to do so “forthwith” almost 20 months ago on February 2, 2017. The Supreme Court of Canada has refused Voltage’s application for leave to appeal regarding the security for costs issue. Thus, without the payment into court, the Voltage reverse class action lawsuit appears to be stalled with a dead battery. That ligation was launched by Kenneth (“Ken”) Clark of the prominent Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis LLP.

In my previous writing, I also indicated that there have recently been 16 other lawsuits (see below) brought by Mr. Clark on behalf of various film companies against hundreds if not thousands of individual Canadian ISP account holders.  For example, the Bodyguard Productions case, has 726 “Doe” defendants. Another, the Morgan Creek case, has 352 Doe Defendants.

I also wrote that I do not know at this time what connection, if any, Voltage has with these 16 or so mass litigation actions. However, there are at least some possible connections. There is apparently a possible connection between Voltage and Morgan Creek in action T-71-18. There is also an apparent possible connection between Voltage and Dallas Buyers Club in action T-1674-16.

According to a recent article posted August 22, 2018 by Ahmad Hathout in the WireReport – a paywalled niche news service – and my own investigation, there have been a number of settlements, including several for as much as $5,000, in which “…a good number of defendants were also represented by lawyers with copyright law practices.” 

I was asked about this for the WireReport story and was quoted as follows:

“I can’t comment on any particular settlement because I don’t know the
specific facts,” Howard Knopf, a lawyer at Macera and Jarzyna, said in an
email. “However, $5,000 is the maximum statutory damages amount that
could ever be awarded for non-commercial activity in these types of cases
even in a contested proceeding.”

He added: “Canadian courts are clear that statutory damages must somehow
correlate to actual damages, which in these en masse BitTorrent situations
are arguably less than $10 for infringement of one work by one individual.
The minimum statutory damage award for non-commercial infringement is
$100. Generally speaking, even if a settlement amount has to be paid – which
is far from clear in these situations — one would expect that it would be at the
lower end and not the upper limit.”
(highlight added)

In other words, it has become apparent that – for reasons which are far from apparent – some experienced copyright lawyers are filing consents to judgement on behalf of their clients in these lawsuits at the maximum end of $5,000, and the clients are presumably paying that plus whatever legal fees their lawyers charge in addition. I, and other knowledgeable copyright lawyers, are wondering what type of circumstances might suggest a settlement at the “max” end of statutory damages for non-commercial activity at the very beginning of the process.  I have also been advised of instances where these lawsuits have been discontinued as against particular Doe defendants without any payment whatsoever in settlement.

In any event, there has just been a potentially very important new development in mass copyright litigation in the USA which could potentially have great significance in Canada as well.

On August 27, 2018 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals  – one of the two most important appellate level courts in American copyright law, next only to the US Supreme Court - ruled as follows in the case of Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzales:

The district court properly dismissed Cobbler Nevada’s claims. The direct infringement claim fails because Gonzales’s status as the registered subscriber of an infringing IP address, standing alone, does not create a reasonable inference that he is also the infringer. Because multiple devices and individuals may be able to connect via an IP address, simply identifying the IP subscriber solves only part of the puzzle. A plaintiff must allege something more to create a reasonable inference that a subscriber is also an infringer. Nor can Cobbler Nevada succeed on a contributory infringement theory because, without allegations of intentional encouragement or inducement of infringement, an individual’s failure to take affirmative steps to police his internet connection is insufficient to state a claim.

The US Court’s stance on contributory infringement is consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s position on “authorization” in the 2004 decision in CCH Canadian v Law Society of Upper Canada, in which the SCC held that:

“…a person does not authorize infringement by authorizing the mere use of equipment that could be used to infringe copyright. Courts should presume that a person who authorizes an activity does so only so far as it is in accordance with the law” (para 38).

Cobbler is one of the top six mass BitTorrent litigation plaintiffs in the USA. This ruling, unless it is somehow overturned en banc or in the US Supreme Court (both of which possibilities I believe to be highly unlikely), may mark the beginning of the end of mass copyright litigation directed against BitTorrent users in the USA.  It is, of course, arguably of immense potential significance to the mass litigation now underway in Canada. While American precedents are not binding in Canada, they can be useful and important in the absence of specifically applicable Canadian jurisprudence. This could be just such an instance, especially since it is consistent with the current controlling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

As usual, I reiterate and, in this case, emphasize that this blog does not provide legal advice. Anyone involved in Canadian mass litigation should consult a lawyer – preferably someone with some copyright expertise.  Since most of my readers are lawyers, they will hopefully know what to do.

Stay tuned for more on related issues.

Meanwhile, for reference purposes, here is a list of the fifteen mass litigation cases referred to above plus the Voltage “reverse class action” case. The links will take readers to the Court’s “docket.” Thanks to Alan Macek and his invaluable IPPractice site for facilitating this compilation.

As of August 29, 2018 (Revised August 31, 2018)

FCT File #
Style of Cause
Type of Case
Copyright Infringement [Applications] [note – $75,000 security for costs remains unpaid]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]

VENICE PI, LLC v. DOE #1 et. al.
Patent [Sic?] Infringement
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]
Copyright Infringement [Actions]


PS - August 31, 2018.
Thanks to a vigilant lawyer who pointed out that I missed one of the "Doe" cases -  namely #12 above which is the JUSTICE EVERYWHERE case. There are now 16 cases in addition to the "reverse class action".

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Standard of Review: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?


The deadline for applications for leave to intervene the Supreme Court appeals involving Bell Canada and the “simultaneous substitution” or “simulcast” issue is August 31, 2018 by my calculation.

It very much looks like the real issue is not so much about the Superbowl and simultaneous substitution but what the SCC wants to do about the “sempiternal” issue of “standard of review” and the landmark Dunsmuir case that was supposed to be the beginning of the end of uncertainty but has instead become something more like the end of the beginning about uncertainty.

In granting leave to appeal, the Court made the very unusual statement that:
The Court is of the view that these appeals provide an opportunity to consider the nature and scope of judicial review of administrative action, as addressed in Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 190, 2008 SCC 9, and subsequent cases. To that end, the appellants and respondent are invited to devote a substantial part of their written and oral submissions on the appeal to the question of standard of review, and shall be allowed to file and serve a factum on appeal of at most 45 pages. 
The Court has also taken the unusual step of appointing amicus curiae  to assist on these case and a related case.

A crucial aspect of this discussion is the presumption of “expertise” by administrative tribunals. In a recent posting by the Copyright Board of remarks by its Chair Justice Robert Blair at an event on May 1, 2018, the learned Chair effectively admitted that the Board may lack expertise in certain respects and that the Board’s expertise may depend upon who is chosen to be a member or even the Chair:
I think it is also important to keep in mind that, while the Board’s staff, and at least the current Vice-Chair, are the repositories of a great deal of expertise in the rate-setting process, all members of the tribunal at the hearing may not have that same in-depth knowledge. The Chair must be a sitting or retired superior court judge (where very little intellectual property work, much less copyright work, is done), and to date has not come from the Federal Court system where they actually know something about those subjects! In addition, none of the present members is an economist. In this sense, the old adage that applies to every good counsel, in any setting, is relevant: know your adjudicator and your forum.
Copyright lawyers will know that the Supreme Court has carved out a special niche for the Copyright Board, essentially holding it to the stricter “correctness” standard because the same questions of law concurring the Copyright Act can arise both before the Board and in the courts. See
Rogers Communications Inc. v. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, [2012] 2 SCR 283, 2012 SCC 35 (CanLII), <>
One can only hope that this niche is preserved. Copyright law is sometimes very arcane and Copyright Board rulings can be very important in many ways. It is perfectly reasonable, if I can put it that way, that the Copyright Board be held to the standard of correctness on questions of law.

Interveners, start your engines.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Will the Canadian Voltage Reverse Class Action Now Fizzle?

I have been writing about Voltage, copyright trolls,  and mass litigation in Canada and elsewhere for almost seven years (beginning on September 9, 2011  here).

On August 9, 2018 the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Voltage Pictures et al’s application for leave to appeal from a judgment from the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) affirming the Federal Courts’ February 2, 2017 order regarding security for costs but for very different reasons. That order required that Voltage must pay $75,000 into court for security for costs “forthwith” pursuant to Federal Courts Rule 416This case is the very controversial “reverse class action” in which Voltage and  a few others are trying to sue more than 50,000 individuals at once. This is an unprecedented and arguably completely unforeseen and unintended use of the relatively new Federal Courts rules permitting class actions.

For reasons that are not apparent, the FCA’s decision has only just been posted very belatedly on August 13, 2018, although it was rendered on November 15, 2017. I presume that this was an oversight. It’s unfortunate, because this proceeding was a major milestone in the ongoing efforts by Voltage and others to sue tens of thousands of individuals through this reverse class action and in approximately 15 current mass litigation law suits naming hundreds of “Does”. For example, one such action, that of Bodyguard Productions, has 726 “Doe” defendants. Another, Morgan Creek, as 352 Doe Defendants. Both of these strategies – namely the “reverse class action” and the 15 or so mass litigation lawsuits – are being pursued by the law firm of Aird and Berlis, LLP. The lead counsel is Mr. Kenneth “Ken” Clark, whose name has arisen before on this blog. Interestingly, most of these 15 mass litigation proceedings began after the Federal Court ordered the payment into court “forthwith” of $75,000 for security for costs on February 2, 2017.

I do not know at this time what connection, if any, Voltage has with these 15 or so mass litigation actions. However, there are at least some connections. There is apparently a possible connection between Voltage and Morgan Creek in action T-71-18. There is also an apparent possible connection between Voltage and Dallas Buyers Club in action T-1674-16

The SCC’s refusal to grant leave to appeal to Voltage will come as good news to the potential 50,000 or so defendants in this very unusual and indeed unprecedented “reverse” copyright class action. One person, Mr. Robert Salna, was singled out by Voltage to represent thousands of potential class members. As luck would have it, Voltage chose quite possibly the very worst possible representative person from Voltage’s standpoint, Mr. Robert Salna, who is a landlord whose internet account allegedly “was used (likely by his tenants) to unlawfully distribute all of the films at issue in the underlying proceeding.”  Mr. Salna clearly has some means, has stood on principle and has good counsel.

I have previously written about how Voltage’s attempt to use a “reverse class action” in the USA was tossed by a federal district court judge in Oregon in 2013.

Naturally, each of the 50,000 or so defendants in this “reverse class action” may have had a different factual story to tell. Moreover, as any copyright lawyer in Canada knows, there is no Canadian case law establishing liability involving the use of BitTorrent technology by individuals.  In any event, even if there is liability in such a case, the amount of actual damage by any individual is likely to be minimal – since the cost of streaming or buying a movie is at most a few dollars. The range of statutory minimum damages for non-commercial activity is $100 to $5,000 and Canadian courts are consistent in ruling that statutory minimum damages must bear a correlation to actual damages. Even $100 is arguably far more than any reasonable measure of actual damage attributable to one individual in the circumstances as alleged.

There are approximately 50,000 class members as estimated by the plaintiffs in this proposed class action. If each of them is held liable for the maximum statutory damages amount of $5,000 for infringement of one work, that could lead to damages of $250,000,000. Even at the $100 low end of the range, the judgment could be in the realm of $5,000,000. In fact, several works are involved in this proposed class proceeding

In this instance, Voltage is attempting to sue at least 50,000 individuals for a total court filing fee of $50 for an “application.”  This is in contrast to a normal “action”, which would normally require a filing fee of either $150 or $50 for each separate lawsuit, the latter being available only for a “simplified action” when the amount claimed does not exceed $50,000.

So, if Voltage pursues its strategy and succeeds in getting this reverse class action certified, it will get to sue at least 50,000 individuals for a court filing fee of less than $0.001each – that’s less than a tenth of a cent.

Voltage and the other plaintiffs were unwilling to put up any security for costs, which is a very normal step at the outset of any Federal Court litigation when, inter alia, the plaintiff is a non-resident entity or when it does not provide an address. See Federal Courts Rule 416.
Voltage had argued the Federal class action regime was designed to prevent costs awards, including any “security for costs” requirement.

334.39 (1) Subject to subsection (2), no costs may be awarded against any party to a motion for certification of a proceeding as a class proceeding, to a class proceeding or to an appeal arising from a class proceeding, unless
·        (a) the conduct of the party unnecessarily lengthened the duration of the proceeding;
·        (b) any step in the proceeding by the party was improper, vexatious or unnecessary or was taken through negligence, mistake or excessive caution; or
·        (c) exceptional circumstances make it unjust to deprive the successful party of costs.

Voltage wanted to argue that the class action mechanism in the Federal Courts Rules is intended to immunize plaintiffs from costs except in very limited circumstances. However, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the nature of a reverse class action may well be an example of when “exceptional circumstances make it unjust to deprive the successful part of costs”. The motions judge in this instance, Justice Boswell, awarded $75,000 security for costs because he reasoned that the certification motion had not yet been filed.

The FCA convincingly ruled that Justice Boswell got the right result but for the wrong reason:
[8] Notwithstanding this, I believe that the Federal Court’s order should nonetheless be upheld as there is an alternate basis for finding that the Court possessed the jurisdiction to make it. In the exceptional circumstances of this case, which involve a proposed reverse class proceeding brought by foreign corporations with no significant assets in Canada against a proposed class potentially comprised of thousands of individuals resident in Canada, it is entirely possible that, if he is successful, the respondent might be awarded costs under Rule 334.39(1)(c). This paragraph allows for costs in respect of a certification motion, a class proceeding or an appeal arising from a class proceeding if “exceptional circumstances make it unjust to deprive the successful party of costs”. Such circumstances could well be found to exist in the present case, but that issue will not be addressed unless and until the Federal Court dismisses the certification motion.

[9] The circumstances in Rules 416(1)(a) and (b) apply, and, therefore, but for this being a proposed class proceeding, the Federal Court would be empowered to make an order for security for costs. I do not believe that the fact that this is a proposed class proceeding forecloses the Federal Court from making such an order in the present case. More specifically, I do not believe that a determination under Rule 334.39(1)(c) is a condition precedent to the exercise by the Federal Court of its discretion under Rule 416 to order security for costs in a case such as this, and there is nothing in the Rules or the case law of this Court that would require such a conclusion.
[11] If the appellants were correct in the interpretation they urge, an order for security for costs could never be made in the case of a class proceeding involving exceptional circumstances as a determination under Rule 334.39(1)(c) cannot be made until a determination on the merits is made. In my view, such an interpretation is untenable as it could well deprive a representative defendant like Mr. Salna of any realistic hope of recovering the costs he might eventually be awarded.
[12] Moreover, it appears that none of the access to justice concerns that motivate the prima facie no-costs regime enshrined in the Rules for class proceedings militates against the order for security in the instant case. The appellants appear to be fully able to bring their action, and, indeed, had two lawyers gowned before this Court on this appeal. In addition, they declined to file any evidence detailing their financial means to retain and instruct counsel or to post the required security for costs. On the other hand, the respondent and other members of the proposed class will likely face difficulty in funding representation. Thus, there is no principled basis for finding that an order for security for costs should not be made in the present case and there is no binding authority that indicates that the Federal Court erred in making such an order. I therefore believe that it was open to the Federal Court to make the impugned order for security for costs.
[13] Nor do I see any basis to interfere with the quantum of the security set by the Federal Court, a discretionary factual determination that this Court cannot interfere with in the absence of palpable and overriding error. The appellants can point to no such error here, particularly in light of the magnitude of the expenses incurred to merely litigate the motion for security. Further, if the appellants are right and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic will be intervening in the certification motion and carrying the bulk of the argument, it would be possible for the appellants to seek to have the Federal Court vary its order and decrease the amount of the security for costs they are required to provide. Indeed, in its reasons, the Federal Court commented on just such a possibility.
[14] Thus, I would dismiss this appeal.

The Supreme Court of Canada is not going to hear Voltage’s appeal regarding the security for costs order. As usual, they don’t provide reasons. The bottom line is that the FCA decision stands as controlling precedent.

Thus, the takeaway from all this is arguably as follows:
  • A “reverse class action” is indeed an “exceptional circumstance” and any foreign plaintiff must be prepared to put up potentially substantial security for costs at an early stage and potentially even more to follow at later stages if such an action ever gets certified, which is far from being clearly likely, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog

  • Voltage may also be liable for reasonably substantial costs for the motion for security for costs.
It will be extremely interesting to see whether Voltage now proceeds in this controversial “reverse class action”. If it wishes to proceed, it must put up $75,000 now and may be liable for substantial costs of the vigorously opposed security for costs motion in due course. I have previously noted how a prior Voltage foray in the Federal Court against Tekksavy customers fizzled when it was ordered to pay substantial costs. In fact, notwithstanding the Federal Court’s order of February 2, 2017 that the $75,000 for security for costs be paid into court “forthwith” (which means in a matter of days, not months or years), it apparently has still not been done, which seems rather odd. That order was not stayed by the unsuccessful appeal to the FCA or the subsequent unsuccessful leave to appeal application to the SCC.

Moreover, it will also be very interesting to see whether the possibly greater awareness amongst lawyers and even self-represented defendants about Federal Courts Rule 416  and “security for costs” will have any impact on the 15 or so mass litigation lawsuits against thousands of “Doe” defendants that were also launched by Mr. Clark.
Stay tuned.