You Should Probably Stop Using BitTorrent to Watch Game of Thrones

Because film and TV studios are cracking down on illegal downloading in Canada

Tara MacInnis
(Photo: HBO)

Being sued for illegally downloading TV shows and movies has always seemed like an empty threat. You snag a few season of a TV show with that everyone-is-doing-it ‘tude, and you know it’s illegal. But, you do it anyway, assuming that it’s essentially impossible to be punished, because if they punished you, they’d have to punish basically everyone with a computer.

Well, that punishment is here, folks. If you were one of the 90 million people who pirated the Game of Thrones premiere, and if you did it with BitTorrent, please consider this mandatory reading. Movie and TV studios have access to the names and addresses of Canadian IP holders who are illegally accessing and distributing their material, and they are using that info to sue people. Read on to find out what that might mean for you.

But… how?

Your service provider has access to your IP address, which is a bunch of numbers that identifies your computer on the network you’re using. Thanks to the Copyright Modernization Act, your service provider has to trace your IP if it’s being used to illegal download content.

But there’s another way that studios can find out who’s downloading their sh-t. When you use BitTorrent, which is the platform that is specifically being targeted right now, you not only download content, but you also share that downloaded content with other users. That reveals your IP address to those users, and TV and film studios are hiring people to track IP addresses that way.

Once a studio has your IP address, they’ll get a Norwich Order from the Federal Court, and that gives them access to both your name and your actual address. Then, they will send you a letter informing you that you are being sued, and giving you a month to put together a defence—or pay up.

Will anything actually happen?

Yes. If you got one of the aforementioned letters, it is real, and you should contact a lawyer to review your options ASAP. In an interview with CBC Mainstreet last week, privacy lawyer David T.S. Fraser warned that you should take this situation seriously. “They can get a default judgment and they can go for the maximum, which is $5,000,” he said. (A default judgement is when one party doesn’t perform a court-ordered action—like say, show up—so the court decides in favour of the compliant party, which in this case would be the studio.)

Fraser also said that his firm has already been contacted by people who were on the receiving end of these letters, which you can see in his Tweet below:

 

That said, there are a few things that will affect your liability. If you didn’t make money off the thing you downloaded, if you downloaded something a limited number of times, or if the amount of money you’re being fined could pose significant hardship for you, you could have a solid defence.

What is the point of all this?

Obviously, money. Studios like HBO want you to pay for the often expensive stuff they make. Did you know the final six episodes of Game of Thrones cost HBO a casual $15 million each? Cool. And even though legal streaming sites like Crave and Netflix exist, a lot of people are still illegally downloading copyrighted material.

The old tactic was to have service providers send one of those “threatening” copyright infringement emails to their pirating customers. There’s a lot of legalese in those emails, but they fall into that category of internet things that look scary and really don’t mean much at all. These physical letters, on the other hand, actually have consequences. Studios are clearly trying a little harder to deter people, and possibly fine them.

But how will I watch Game of Thrones?

If you want to do this legally—which we recommend at this point—you’re going to have to fork over the cash for a Crave subscription, or upgrade your cable package to include HBO Canada. Netflix can’t help you with GoT, but there is a lot of other good stuff on there, so treat yourself to that if you can. Or, be extra thrifty and “borrow” someone else’s login and password (thanks, dad).

There is one other way you can get around this issue, which we don’t condone but does apparently work. If you can get a VPN (virtual private network), your internet travels, illegal or otherwise, will be hidden.

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