What To Do if You Get a Threatening Copyright Notice

You don't pay it, they don't know who you are.
Mack Lamoureux
Toronto, CA
November 7, 2016, 4:06pm

Admit it, you've downloaded something illegally.

We all have—downloading something illegally is almost a rite of passage in this day and age (at least until you discover a decent streaming site). From those of us old enough to remember Napster and Limewire to those little pirates riding the BitTorrent waves, we've all gotten our hands on some free content through the dark magic of the interweb.

It's not cool—pay for your music kids—but we've all done it.


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So, in order to try and stop the little hordes of pirates, the Canadian government brought in the Copyright Modernization Act several years ago. The act attempts to bring Canadian copyright law into the YouPorn era.

It all seems reasonable right? Well, Michael Geist, an author and founder of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, explains that within the act is something called the Notice and Notice Regime which came into force in early 2015.

"The basic idea behind [Notice and Notice] is that a rights holder identifies that someone may have infringed on their copyright. They identify the IP address and the Internet Service Provider that that IP address belongs to—at that point they don't know who it is—and they forward on a notification," Geist told VICE.

This is where the story takes a turn, because it didn't take long at all for some companies to start taking advantage of some of the wording in the act.

"What's happened is that certain companies have used this system to not just notify the customer of the alleged infringement, but to notify them that they face the potential for major liability and if they like [they] can settle and make the case go away, many people feel pressured in that way to do just that," said Geist.

Under the Notice and Notice Regime the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is forced to send these notifications, which includes the strongly worded settlement offer. Meanwhile, the company sending the settlements don't even pay for the delivery of these notices since the ISP has to deliver them. ISPs have said they send out thousands of these notices daily.


At times it gets ridiculous. Recently, the CBC has reported, a company threatened a 86-year-old grandmother with the possibility of being sued for $5,000 after someone downloaded a video game from her unsecured internet.

A lot of the time people worried about being sued call the companies and settle up. The owner of CANIPRE, one of these companies, told the CBC that he gets hundreds of calls or emails a day with "most of them" settling.

The thing is though, the companies writing these settlement offers don't know who you are since the ISP does not release private information, they just know the IP address. Their business is based on people who don't really understand the situation getting frightened by the notice and settling.

Geist fully admits that the whole situation is messed up.

"I think that it's highly unethical to essentially scare someone into settling when you know full well that you don't know who they are and it is unlikely that you are going to follow through with a certain claim," he said.

He's hoping when the Copyright Modernization Act is reviewed in 2017, the government will change the wording in the act which could close the loophole that allows the companies to piggyback their settlement offer onto the notifications.

So, in the meantime, what do you do when the copyright boogeymen come knocking at your door?

Well, they don't know who you are, the government has stated you are under no obligation to settle and they are not likely to bring the case to court. So it's simple, you just straight up ignore them.

But to avoid this headache in the future you could, you know, just pay for your shit.

Photo via flikr user nrkbeta

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