By Richard Stobbe
This is a case that became something of a lightning rod in the storm of subscriber privacy rights vs. copyright. As we wrote in our earlier post, a copyright owner can only enforce its rights against online infringement if it knows the identity of the infringer. It can seek a court order (called a Norwich order) to disclose the identity of those alleged infringers. Canadian law is clear that “A court order is required in every case as a condition precedent to the release of subscriber information.”
Such an order was used by Voltage Pictures to obtain the names and addresses of some 2,000 subscribers of an ISP known TekSavvy Solutions Inc. TekSavvy sought reimbursement of its costs for complying with the order: TekSavvy claimed recovery of a total of $346,480.68. Voltage offered to pay $884.00. The lower court concluded that Voltage should pay $21,557.50 to cover TekSavvy’s legal costs, administrative costs, and disbursements of abiding with the Order.
TekSavvy appealed that order.
In Voltage Pictures LLC v. John Doe, 2015 FC 1364 (CanLII), the court awarded TekSavvy an additional amount of $11,822.50. A win? Not really, considering how much they claimed, and what it would have cost to run the appeal.
The court also wagged a finger at TekSavvy. Since TekSavvy was only obliged to deliver the subscriber info after payment of its costs, the payment issue resulted in a significant delay in the supply of the subscriber names. The court complained that “…Voltage has not been able to obtain the information that it was lawfully entitled to for more than two years after Prothonotary Aalto’s Order. The failure to provide this information, on all accounts, appears to be due to TekSavvy’s unwarranted and excessive cost claims in the amount now of $350,000…”
It went on to note that “…the background circumstantial results do not sit well with the Court. They confirm that the policy in these types of motions should normally be to facilitate the plaintiff’s legitimate efforts to obtain the information from ISPs on the prima facie illegal activities of its subscribers. In my view, courts should be careful not to allow the ISP’s intervention to unduly interfere in the copyright holder’s efforts to pursue the subscribers, except where a good case is made out to do so. While it may be a practice to require prepayment of the ISP’s costs of the motion, the court must not let this issue delay unnecessarily the execution of the order to the extent possible. Reasonable security for costs may be preferable in some cases.” [Emphasis added]
As with the earlier decision, this case serves as guidance to copyright holders who are seeking the information of anonymous infringers, and to ISPs who must balance the privacy rights of subscribers.
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