Independent internet service provider TekSavvy received a temporary reprieve from the courts Monday morning in trying to protect customers’ identities from Voltage Pictures. The Hollywood production studio is seeking the real names of customers behind more than 2,000 internet protocol addresses that it says illegally downloaded its movies earlier this fall.
Justice O’Keefe at the Federal Court of Canada sided with TekSavvy, which argued that it hadn’t had enough time to properly inform customers that they might be part of Voltage’s legal action. The studio said TekSavvy had had since Nov. 1, but the ISP said it only received drafts of the motion then, with the final documents only coming in early December.
Only about 10 per cent of potentially affected customers had actually read their notices, while at least 42 people had received them that shouldn’t have, TekSavvy said. The short time frame was resulting in errors being made, the company added.
Voltage, the studio behind The Hurt Locker, said TekSavvy was stalling and that it was merely trying to drum up positive PR, but the judge gave the ISP the extension it was looking for regardless. The company must now properly notify potentially affected customers of the Voltage action, with another hearing scheduled for Jan. 14.
The studio did reiterate its intention to litigate against individuals who it says have infringed.
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic also appeared at the Toronto court, although the judge did not allow the group’s representative to speak. He did read and consider a letter from the group before making his decision. (Thanks to @pandersen, @ressym and @Bill_Sandiford for their live tweets from the proceedings.)
So what does the delay mean? For TekSavvy customers who are potentially affected, it’s a temporary reprieve – it’s one more month where they won’t have to deal with a lawsuit.
For Voltage, it’s a clear loss in several ways. Not only does the company not get to start its lawsuits, it has also been sidelined in its effort to quickly railroad them through the courts. The judge’s decision should be interpreted to mean that there will be no quick slam dunks here.
And with this case getting plenty of media attention – none of which is positive – the longer it goes, the worse it’s likely to be for Voltage. It’s easy to imagine some sort of protest being mobilized for the Jan. 14 hearing.
This is why many copyright holders in the U.S. have found it uneconomical to sue individuals. The negative publicity they buy themselves has, in most cases, outweighed any settlements or judgements they’ve received. It’ll be especially true in Canada, where the recently reformed copyright laws are intended to discourage such lawsuits, with allowed damages ranging from $100 to $5,000.