Copyright Trolls Threaten College Students With Million-Dollar Lawsuits, Deportation

820041030_54391896a1_bFor the past several years ethically-challenged companies and law firms have been threatening consumers with legally dubious demands(*) based on questionable evidence(**) of alleged piracy(***).

We’ve seen this in the US, Australia, and the UK, and even had judges reject some of the demands due to the flimsy evidence, but that hasn’t deterred companies like Malibu Media and RightsCorp. In fact, the practice has expanded, with Canadian college students now receiving demands which experts are calling “tantamount to extortion”.

The student newspaper of the University of Manitoba reported last week that the university’s copyright office (how sad that they should have to have such an office) had forwarded some 8,000 DMCA notices to students over the past couple years. Most are from HBO and merely inform the students of how they could get the content legally, but others are of a more dubious nature:

The University of Manitoba’s copyright office is warning that notices forwarded to students, mostly from American rights-holders, seeking cash settlements for alleged illegal downloading activities are tantamount to extortion.

Amendments to Canadian copyright legislation that came into effect in 2015 require internet service providers (ISP) – which the university qualifies as – to forward notices indicating the alleged infringement from copyright owners to suspected illegal downloaders.

However, some rights holders – commonly producers of pornographic materials – are issuing aggressive letters warning of multi-million dollar lawsuits, the loss of scholarships, and even deportation for international students if an immediate cash settlement of hundreds of dollars is not paid.

Needless to say, this is complete nonsense.  Even if the students had committed piracy, Micheal Geist points out that the legal penalties are limited by Canadian law to $5,000. Said penalties do not extend to deportation or multi-million-dollar settlements.

Any claim to the contrary is a lie, one which is conveyed in support of an effort to convince students to fork over a settlement.

And that distinction is important, because as Techdirt points out it means we’re not looking at DMCA notices any more; what we are seeing here is wire fraud.

I’m unclear on the implications of these letters coming from the US to Canada, but it sure sounds a hell of a lot like wire fraud to me. The point of wire fraud laws is to prevent one entity from gaining another’s possessions under false pretenses. Threats of consequences that will not occur sure seem to fit the description, and I would think the Canadian government would want to say something about the claim that a foreign company could influence its immigration oversight on the basis of downloaded pornography.

Fortunately, the school is trying to inject a little reality into the proceedings. Students are being told that threats of  “multi-million dollar lawsuits, the loss of scholarships, and even deportation for international students” are bogus.

“None of which are real consequences that could ever happen in the Canadian scheme of things, but we hear from students all the time – especially international students – who are really freaked out by this,” Joel Guenette, U of M copyright strategy manager, said.

“We can’t tell students ‘ignore these notices’ and we can’t tell students ‘never pay a claim’ but, personally, I want students to know what these are and I want them to know that most of these settlement claims are extortion.”

Students are at a university to get an education, and do you know what they are learning from this?

They’re learning that media companies are trolls, and that there is no real downside to piracy.

That’s a good lesson there.

P.S. TorrentFreak

P.P.S. Techdirt

P.P.P.S. Hollywood Reporter

image by andrewmalone

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

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