In Voltage Pictures LLC v. John Doe and Jane Doe (2014 FC 161), Voltage, a film company in the United States, demanded that TekSavvy, an Internet provider, disclose the names of approximately 2000 subscribers which Voltage alleged infringed the copyright in its films, including its Oscar nominated film The Hurt Locker, so that it could presumably launch actions against these individuals.
The Federal Court ordered TekSavvy to release the names and addresses of suspected infringing subscribers, but, in doing so, tried to balance the rights of Voltage, a copyright holder, and the privacy concerns related to potentially innocent users by imposing limitations and safeguards on the information being released. Specifically, the Court set out clear directions aimed to prevent any abusive use of the information disclosed and ordered, among other things, that:
- a Case Management Judge would be appointed to monitor, as necessary, Voltage’s conduct in its dealings with the alleged infringers;
- before any information was released, Voltage had to pay TekSavvy’s reasonable legal costs, administrative costs and disbursements;
- the “demand letter” sent by Voltage to the alleged infringers had to be reviewed and approved by the Court and state, in bold type, that “no Court has yet made a determination that such subscriber has infringed or is liable in any way for payment of damages”;
- disclosure to Voltage was limited to names and addresses and not telephone numbers or email addresses;
- the disclosed information was to remain confidential and could not be made available to the media, the general public or any other parties without a further order of the Court;
- the disclosed information could only be used by Voltage in connection with the claims in the action; and
- Voltage had to include a copy of the Order in any correspondence sent to any of the alleged infringers.
By imposing the above safeguards, the Court has definitely made it more difficult and costly for a plaintiff to try to pursue alleged infringers. This case has received considerable attention for potentially deterring so-called “copyright trolls”; i.e. copyright holders with improper motives who either send aggressive demand letters that threaten litigation or launch lawsuits, with the hopes of scaring recipients into an immediate monetary settlement. However, an equally important aspect of this case is the balance struck between the rights of copyright holders and the privacy rights of individuals which well may become an integral feature of future cases in this area, and possibly others.