At the University of Manitoba, thousands of students are receiving letters that claim their IP address has been connected with illegal downloads.
Dorms are hotbeds for digital piracy — textbooks, software, porn, music, movies — so this is kind of a 'no duh,' but some of these warnings include an added threat: copyright enforcement companies like IP-Echelon and CEG TEK International are asking infringers to pay hundreds in settlement fees, CBC reports.
Many students just ignore the letters, but some have forked out the cash worried they might be forced to pay heavier fines in the future if they forgo settlement.
The notice system began in 2015 when new Canadian copyright laws came into effect. The idea was to deter pirates, not shake them down.
On campus, the University of Manitoba is the internet service provider, and under new federal copyright law, the ISP is obligated to forward infringement notices to the users attached to the flagged IPs. The university has thus far passed on 6,000 such notices. In the past, they just discarded them, an action which under new legislation risks massive fines.
Joel Guénette, the University of Manitoba's copyright strategy manager, says the letters border on extortion. He wants students to know their options after receiving a warning notice. It's common, he says, for students to be threatened with million-dollar lawsuits, especially when the content is pornographic or otherwise sensitive. The maximum fine for copyright violation in Canada, however, is $5,000.
"I have students that come to me and ask, 'Am I going to lose my scholarship? Am I going to lose my visa? Am I going to be deported? Are you going to tell my parents?'" he told the CBC. The answer is no. All are penalties outside the possible legal consequences of copyright violation.
Guénette advises against responding to the notices because "there is no evidence that I have seen that shows that the notices stop once payment has taken place." The copyright enforcers only know an infringer's IP address, not their name, and the ISP must direct the warning to the corresponding user. Responding to the notices, Guénette says, volunteers the user's identity — information which those collectors might use later to seek further payment.
Barry Logan, who's managing director of Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement, another company that sends infringement notices for rights holders, says everyone has the right to ask for restitution before something becomes a matter for the courts. His company has retrieved $500,000 in settlements for rights holders.
His advice if you happen to receive a copyright infringement notice: get a lawyer.