Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Update on Canadian Copyright Mass Litigation – September Snapshot

This photo of Ottawa is courtesy of TripAdvisor

As I reported earlier, regarding the Rogers v. Salna “reverse class action” case against 55,000 or so unnamed defendants and the issue of reasonable reimbursement to Rogers for providing the names and street addresses of these potential defendants if the case gets that far, Voltage filed a Notice of Appeal on August 16, 2019.  As predicted, Rogers has filed a Notice of Cross-Appeal dated August 28, 2019.

It will be interesting to see whether and how the outcome of this appeal and cross-appeal from a trial level decision that in turn resulted from a remand from the Supreme Court of Canada and which could go on for still some time, will affect the proposed reverse class action that began in 2016. The long delayed certification motion for the reverse class is scheduled for September 23rd   and 24th , 2019. The key documents for this motion have apparently not yet been filed.

There’s also an important contested proceeding underway for a Norwich Disclosure order that is being contested by Eastlink and Xplornet that will the subject of a case management conference on September 19, 2019.

It will be interesting to see how vigorously the ISPs fight to protect the privacy of their subscribers. Presumably,  none of them yet have any idea that they have been named as a “Doe #” and could be on the hook for up to $5,000 and will have to self-defend (perhaps with help from Pro Bono Ontario), find a lawyer who is able and willing to help them on a cost effective basis, or take the risk of ignoring the proceedings and being vulnerable to default judgment.

All of this, not to mention the ongoing 18 so other cases against thousands of “Doe” defendants regarding various Voltage, etc. matters.

There are important issues that cut across all these proceedings and which could have a potentially profound effect on the public interest. The apparent lack of sufficient attention to the public interest to date should be of serious concern to policy makers, who have yet to implement regulations about reimbursement, and to the Courts, which have never faced this kind of mass litigation on this scale and with this sophistication before in Canada. I was very much involved in this first of these cases, the BMG case, back in 2004-2005. The rigorous test for disclosure set forth by the Federal Court of Appeal in that case at the behest of Shaw, Telus & CIPPIC (which I then represented) has not been followed or even invoked in all cases since then, although Teksavvy now seems to be pursuing it in in earnest in the case noted above.

Copyright owners are entitled to protect their rights and the recent fronts of litigation referred to above have been conducted in Canada with commendable Canadian courtesy. This has happened without the extreme and even criminal excesses we have seen in some American “troll” litigation. Some Canadian ISPs are standing up to be counted; however, they have their own commercial interests to consider which are not necessarily going to result in the protection of the interests of their customers.  Overall, there is a serious systemic access to justice problem here that somehow needs to be addressed.

As I’ve said before, it’s useful to recall the clear words Justice Brown of the Supreme Court of Canada in reimbursement decision, Rogers Communications Inc. v. Voltage Pictures, LLC, [2018] 2 SCR 643, 2018 SCC 38.  Here are perhaps the two most consequential paragraphs in the judgment – which arguably put a potentially severe chill on all the legal basis of the outstanding mass BitTorrent cases:
[35] I acknowledge that there will likely be instances in which the person who receives notice of a claimed copyright infringement will not in fact have illegally shared copyrighted content online. This might occur, for example, where one IP address, while registered to the person who receives notice of an infringement, is available for the use of a number of individuals at any given time. Even in such instances, however, accuracy is crucial. Where, for example, a parent or an employer receives notice, he or she may know or be able to determine who was using the IP address at the time of the alleged infringement and could take steps to discourage or halt continued copyright infringement. Similarly, while institutions or businesses offering Internet access to the public may not know precisely who used their IP addresses to illegally share copyrighted works online, they may be able, upon receiving notice, to take steps to secure its internet account with its ISP against online copyright infringement in the future.
 [41] It must be borne in mind that being associated with an IP address that is the subject of a notice under s. 41.26(1)(a) is not conclusive of guilt.  As I have explained, the person to whom an IP address belonged at the time of an alleged infringement may not be the same person who has shared copyrighted content online. It is also possible that an error on the part of a copyright owner would result in the incorrect identification of an IP address as having been the source of online copyright infringement. Requiring an ISP to identify by name and physical address the person to whom the pertinent IP address belonged would, therefore, not only alter the balance which Parliament struck in legislating the notice and notice regime, but do so to the detriment of the privacy interests of persons, including innocent persons, receiving notice.
(highlight and emphasis added)

Even if these comments from the SCC go beyond the narrow “ratio decidendi” (what is actually decided and what is generally rooted in the facts) to the those that are “obiter dicta”, the latter type of comments can still be authoritative if they are closely related to “ratio decidendi”.  Those who are curious about the role of SCC “obiter dicta” may want to read the SCC’s own important 2005 decision regarding this issue. See  R. v. Henry, [2005] 3 SCR 609, 2005 SCC 76. In this instance, these comments were arguably closely related to the “ratio” and should now be regarded as binding authority.

This SCC ruling may mean that a very large number of those who have been or may become caught up in Canadian copyright mass litigation and who cannot be shown on the basis of reliable, sufficient  and admissible evidence to have done anything more than to pay for internet service are not only not liable for copyright infringement but arguably should never be drawn into the process in the first place.


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