February 24, 2015 6:38 pm
Updated: February 25, 2015 10:33 am

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

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HALIFAX – If you like to download songs, movies or TV shows and recently received a copyright infringement warning notice – you’re not alone.

As of January 1, 2015, internet service providers (ISP) are legally required to pass on these notices as part of Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act. Prior to this date, ISPs have been forwarding notices to consumers voluntarily.

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READ MORE: New regulations about illegal downloading go into effect

Dalhousie University student Beatrix Yuan is a big fan of the HBO show, Banshee.

But since she didn’t have a subscription, she decided to download two episodes from a torrent site in February.

“Season 3 just started and I really wanted to know what happened,” she said with a laugh.

Three weeks later, she received an email from her internet provider, Bell, letting her know that HBO had caught wind of her illegal downloading and it constituted possible copyright infringement.

“I was surprised. I was really scared,” she said, pointing out that none of her friends received notices.

“How could they find me? Why was I the only one they contacted?”

A copy of the notice Beatrix Yuan received from her Internet Service Provider.

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Privacy lawyer David Fraser says the notices serve as a warning and a wake-up call to internet users.

“Your online activities are not necessarily completely anonymous,” he said.

“Depending on how you’re downloading music or how you’re downloading TV shows or movies — you’re exposing your IP address, which is your online identity, all over the place.”

While the notices can be alarming, they’re not an indication the copyright holder is suing. ISPs are also not obligated to disclose the consumers’ identities.

“Don’t expect and don’t imagine that just because you received that letter, the rights holder knows yet who you are and that they’ve started a lawsuit or that they’re about to start a lawsuit against you,” Fraser said.

The rights holder can, however, go to the courts to request the names associated with IP addresses and launch a lawsuit.

Dalhousie University law professor, Jon Penney, says that’s unlikely.

And while the penalties for illegal downloading in the United States can reach the millions, the damages for copyright infringement in Canada is much less.

“[If] you’re not selling it for profit, you’re not trading it again — you’re just listening to it and you make a single copy — under the Canadian legislation, there’s a cap on the statutory damages which is limited to $5,000.”

Penney says if a notice recipient believes they received the notice in error and that their activity is legal, the recipient should seek legal advice. Otherwise, he advises people to take the notice to heart.

“If you’re engaging in copyright infringement, I would say: just knock it off. That’s probably my best advice at this point.”

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