TekSavvy decision a loss for customer privacy

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Internet provider TekSavvy will apparently lose a pretty penny for protecting customer privacy.

In a high-profile 2014 case, Canada’s Federal Court ruled TekSavvy must hand over information on customers who illegally shared movies produced by U.S. distributor Voltage Pictures. However, the court also created a restraint on so-called copyright trolling by saying Voltage would have to pay TekSavvy’s costs for complying with the order.

This week, the court set that cost at $21,557.

How is that a loss?

First off, it’s just a fraction of the $346,480 TekSavvy claimed for legal fees and technical costs involved in obeying the order, although far more than the $884 that Voltage claimed it would cost.

The Ontario-based company says that award covers less than six per cent of its total costs in fighting the lawsuit.

Also, it’s a potential loss to consumers as well. Even if TekSavvy’s claim was inflated, it’s a safe bet that a Federal Court case against a U.S. movie distributor amounted to more than a relatively paltry $21,000.

And if defending customer privacy is going to cost that much, other ISPs may learn that it’s not worth fighting to protect it.

“For consumers concerned about privacy, this narrow reading sends the wrong signal,” commented TekSavvy CEO Marc Gaudrault said in a press release. “It tells copyright claimants that protecting the end-users’ privacy is someone else’s problem — not something whose costs they need worry about.”

Voltage originally filed suit in 2012 against Canadian John and Jane Does for “unauthorized reproduction and distribution of [Voltage’s] cinematographic works” over a two-month period that same year.

The company issued an oddly specific inventory of those shared films, which didn’t include the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, but did list the straight-to-video Steven Seagal bomb Maximum Conviction.

There’s some doubt as to whether Voltage will bother actually pursuing everyone who watched Maximum Conviction or Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden (and come on, how many people really watched those anyway?), since there may not be a lot of money in it.

Canadian law places strict caps on awards for non-commercial infringements.

The Copyright Modernization Act aims to “ensure that courts take proportionality into account in awarding damages,” meaning they can be as little as $100 in total damages. Even the absolute maximum is just $5,000.

Whether or not they come after all these TekSavvy B-movie watchers, it’s still an ill omen for online privacy.

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