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Lawsuits hit Canadians accused of illegal downloading, uploading of movies

Anya Morgante of Toronto says she can’t believe she’s being sued for allegedly sharing a copy of a film featuring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.

“I am not a pirate,” she said, a term often used to describe people who share copyrighted works like movies without permission or payment.

But Morgante is just one of about 3,400 Canadians facing legal actions in Federal Court launched by a prestigious Toronto law firm on behalf of U.S. movie production companies attempting to enforce their copyright claims.

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“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” said lawyer Ken Clark, a partner at Aird & Berlis LLP, who is spearheading the litigation.

READ MORE: No, you do not have to pay a ‘settlement fee’ if you get an illegal download notice

“If you get caught, you have to pay,” he said.

One of Clark’s clients, Bodyguard Productions, Inc., made the Hollywood film The Hitman’s Bodyguard, described as a “genuine smash hit” by Forbes Magazine, earning more than US$70 million when it was released in 2017, according to the publication.

But producers and distributors said they believe they have lost significant additional revenue to video pirates who are sharing the movie online for free in violation of copyright legislation, including Canada’s Copyright Act.

“We are trying to educate people and make it sting a little,” Clark told Global News, describing how his law firm is methodically sending out hundreds of legal claims against Canadians who shared the movie.

READ MORE: Canadians who illegally download movies may be risking more than previously thought

Clark’s law firm sent Morgante a statement of claim in December, 2017, alleging infringement after the movie was shared through her Rogers internet service. The claim has not been proven in court.

“It’s been stressful,” Morgante said in an interview, denying she watched or shared the movie.

However, she acknowledged it was possible someone else in her home or someone who had access to Wi-Fi service did.

“I’m not even computer-savvy,” said Morgante, adding she did not receive any notice from Rogers alleging her account had been used improperly.

READ MORE: New regulations about illegal downloading go into effect

She said she has a Netflix subscription, uses pay-per-view television and goes to the cinema when she wants to watch movies.

Clark said his client isn’t interested in going after those who merely download video content, but internet users who shared videos with others — something detected by sophisticated sniffer software used by movie companies.

“We send warning notices for a reason: to put the owner of the (internet) account on notice,” he said, adding they would not take legal action against anyone who had not received at least two emailed warnings first. He said they would only take action if the person in question ignored the warnings.

In response to the claim, Morgante said she got advice from a legal clinic and then submitted a statement of defence. She said she didn’t share the movie, nor does she believe anyone else in her household did.

READ MORE: Internet users receive illegal downloading notices, but what do they mean?

In January, she received an offer to settle the claim.

“The subject defendant shall pay to the Plaintiff the sum of $3,000, inclusive of costs for damages,” the statement said.

“It’s not fair. It’s crazy. They should have to prove [their case],” Morgante said.

The law firm had been prepared to accept a lower amount of $150 to settle the claim at a later point, but she said paying any amount would amount to an admission of guilt.

“It’s the principle,” she said.

READ MORE: Canadians among top illegal downloaders of ‘Game of Thrones’

Clark said his law firm listens to consumers individually and doesn’t want to litigate against those who have a valid explanation for movie sharing. He said defendants have paid various amounts ranging from $100 to $5000 to settle the claims.

Although to date no federal judge has ruled in favour of his clients against someone accused of illegal downloading or uploading, Clark said “we have cases in court.”

Clark also warned consumers against the use of so-called Android boxes, devices sold with the promise of free television and free movie content. He said those devices are used to redistribute copyrighted content and may also violate laws.

“No law allows people to get something for nothing,” he said.

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