Is an all-out battle against Internet piracy coming to Canada?

A legal challenge to have an Ontario Internet service provider (ISP) release personal information about its clients could be the start of a massive battle against online piracy in Canada.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement agency (Canipre) is seeking the identities of hundreds of thousands of Internet users it claims have illegally downloaded movies belonging to its client.

The Canadian Press reports that the face-off could be the beginning of large, U.S.-style lawsuits against people who illegally download movies off of the Internet in Canada.

Canipre has teamed with studio Voltage Pictures to go after those who are downloading their films without permission. Canipre is asking the Federal Court to force Ontario-based Internet provider Teksavvy provide them with customer information.

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In short, Canipre has a database of IP addresses it claims have downloaded Voltage movies (Oscar-winning Hurt Locker, most notably) and wants Teksavvy to provide the names that go with those addresses.

From there, the firm can send out cease-and-desist letters and demand repayment to as many users as possible. Some refer to the practice as "copyright trolling" because it targets the names attached to IP addresses without proof they are responsible for an illegal download.

Canadian laws make it possible for those who illegally download copyrighted material to be fined up to $5,000. No such limit exists in the U.S., making lawsuits, or even the threat of lawsuits, much more financially terrifying.

Canipre's managing director Barry Logan told the Canadian Press that some 100 companies are watching the case, which could prompt further raids on Internet downloaders in Canada.

But is this really the end of illegal downloading in Canada? For better or worse, probably not.

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For one thing, the practice used by Canipre has faced some questions in the past. VICE writes that Canipre’s process involves obtaining the names of those associated with IP addresses and sending them threatening letters for payment, without going through with any actual lawsuits.

The idea being that enough people will pay to make it worthwhile, without being challenged in court.

Blogger Jonathan Mesiano-Crookston wrote that Voltage Pictures dropped a previous lawsuit without explanation after receiving a court order forcing ISPs to release personal details about their clients.

The U.S. Electronic Frontier Foundation has also written several blog posts on the "copyright troll" business model, outlining some less-than-successful bids in the U.S.

But that is not all that Canipre does. The company boasts a “black book” of shadowy connections and an understanding of the piracy world that it uses to pull movies off of file-sharing sites.

The company also focuses on education. According to its website, 95 per cent of people stop illegally downloading copyrighted material when asked to. Which suggests a high number of those people understand what they are doing is illegal and stop once they understand the consequences.

So while this might not be the start of an all-out copyright war, perhaps it is the beginning of an education campaign.