Are Canadian Telcos Abusing the Law to Fight Piracy?

You do not often hear about telcos launching dawn raids on people’s homes in order confiscate equipment and interrogate their target for hours on end. You might think that was the job of the police. Or you might think that even the police should not be allowed to behave like that, except in the most extreme cases. However, just such a raid was recently conducted by Canadian telcos. Their quarry was Adam Lackman, the entrepreneur behind TVAddons, a business which generates revenue from adverts displayed alongside an index of software for Kodi boxes. The telcos say some of the software add-ons are used to watch pirate television. However, you may question who the real brigands are when you read Lackman’s account of how the telco’s representatives treated him.

On June 12th, Adam Lackman was the subject of an Anton Pillar order. Anton Pillar orders are meant to preserve evidence in civil lawsuits. During the execution of the order, an independent (neutral) counsel overseeing the lawsuit, performed a search and seizure of Adam’s premises that lasted a total of about sixteen hours. His personal computer and other belongings were seized, including domain names and social media accounts that weren’t even related to TV ADDONS.

He was interrogated for a period of nine grueling hours, during which he was denied the right to remain silent. They told him that if he didn’t answer every question asked, he would be in contempt of court – which is punishable by imprisonment.

Lackman had received no notice of the civil lawsuit. The raid caught him completely by surprise. His right to legal assistance was interfered with. When the matter went to court, the judge was not sympathetic to the way the telcos had behaved. The judge said Lackman had not been allowed “any of the protections normally afforded to litigants in such circumstances.” Lackman’s summary of the court decision follows.

The court found the Anton Pillar to be unlawful and the interrogation to have been in violation of Adam’s rights. The independent counsel was ordered to return everything that was seized, and no one was to retain copies of anything. In fact, the Court found the conduct of the plaintiffs highly objectionable. The injunction was denied, TV ADDONS would be permitted to continue operations.

Thanks to their heavy-handed tactics, all the telcos acting against Lackman have been lambasted by national broadcasters, tech pundits, and major news sites. If the Canadian telcos want some public support after complaining about widespread piracy of TV shows like Game of Thrones then this is not the way to go about it.

Though the press took the side of Lackman, the judge did not give the businessman everything he wanted. Because of a pending appeal, Lackman’s property, domain names and social media accounts were not returned to him. Not allowing Lackman to use his old domain name is obviously going to impede his web-based business, and cause him to lose revenues. That is why he has turned to crowdfunding to raise the money needed to fight the appeal. So far he has raised over USD27,000 on his crowdfunding page, mostly from small anonymous donations.

Perhaps the telcos will win, and perhaps they have a point, although Lackman argues that less than one percent of the add-ons listed on his index were said to be infringing the property rights of the telcos. But if you want to persuade young people not to steal copyrighted content, behaving like greedy goons is the wrong way to go about. After all, the television being made for modern audiences is full of clichéd stories about evil faceless corporations exploiting and oppressing everyone just to make a few extra bucks. Or have the masterminds working at these telcos never actually watched the products they want everyone to pay for?

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.