January 1st saw a new law, part of the Copyright Modernization Act, go into effect in Canada that requires internet service providers and website hosts to notify their users when copyright holders have detected illegal downloading. When an ISP now receives a letter of complaint from a copyright holder, they must forward it to the customer tied to the IP address associated with the download, or face fines of up to $10,000. The same applies to VPN (virtual private network) services, who must also record customer logs for a least 6 months.
There are no immediate legal consequences tied to the notices, but they are good for ISPs, as it protects them from any lawsuits from copyright holders. One attorney specializing in the internet notes that for users who receive the letters, there is no legal requirement that they stop the illegal downloading, or that website owners take down the content they may be sharing, but it does open the door for a copyright holder’s lawsuit. Fines for individuals can be as high as $5,000 if copyrighted content was downloaded for personal use, while downloads for commercial gain can get a max of $20,000.
This system is meant to act as an informal way to compel users to stop their illegal downloads, as it’s unlikely that copyright holders would begin a lawsuit for such a small financial gain (especially when the legal fees would be higher). But, the attorney notes, copyright holders could be interested in suing a large number of people at once, and if a user meets the requirements they could easily be added to the list.
The law also protects ISPs and website hosts in that they are not required to give over users’ personal information unless a lawsuit begins. But they must keep a 6 month record of who letters were sent to, again in the case of a lawsuit. This is bad for VPN services, as the aspect of anonymity is a key feature, and in order for them to comply, they must keep 6 months’ of access data, something that could be very expensive or difficult for small businesses.