If you thought American or British copyright fights were petty, consider the case of Canadian Adam Lackman – who had a bailiff, lawyers, and computer experts burst into his home, seize his gear, and grill him for hours.
Lackman, a self-described tech entrepreneur, hosts the TVAddons website which links to plugins called addons for Kodi, the open-source media player suite formerly known as XBMC. Typically, you install Kodi on a little gadget that plugs into your TV so you can watch stuff from files or streamed over the internet. People install addons, such as those indexed by TVAddons, to scrape video from places like BBC's iPlayer and ESPN and show them on their tellies.
Broadcasters and content makers love to hate Kodi and its unofficial addons because the software can be used by viewers to bypass DRM and region locks to stream and pirate stuff they shouldn't. There's an ongoing Kodipocalypse against equipment makers that help folks rip off material online.
The case against Lackman rests on claims that 23 of the more than 1,500 addons listed on his site can be used for copyright infringement.
Amid a civil court battle brought against him by Canadian cable giants, lawyers and IT experts on behalf the TV-and-broadband companies invaded his home in a move later ruled unlawful. First, a lawsuit was filed by Bell, Rogers and Quebecor Inc's Vidéotron in June against the TVaddons bloke, alleging copyright infringement. They then obtained an Anton Piller order from a court, which allows a plaintiff to enter a premises to preserve evidence in a civil case.
After getting the order, at 8am on June 12, a bailiff, two computer technicians, an independent counsel to oversee the order's execution, and a lawyer representing Bell, Rogers and Vidéotron, knocked on the door of Lackman's home and began questioning him. Sixteen hours later they were still there, and had subjected Lackman to nine or more hours of grilling.
"The whole experience was horrifying," Lackman told CBC on Wednesday this week. "It felt like the kind of thing you would have expected to have happened in the Soviet Union."
He said he was told he'd be hit with contempt of court allegations if he refused to answer questions, and he wasn't allowed to consult with his lawyer for much of the time. In the meantime, his computer equipment and phones were seized, and he was ordered to cough up the passwords to administer his domain names, email accounts, and social media accounts associated with TVAddons. The next day his site went dark after he effectively lost control of his web properties to the cable companies.
However, on June 29, he successfully contested the search order in a Canadian federal court. The presiding judge was scathing about the conduct of the telly giants in the case, pointing out that the "reasonable hours" for an investigation for such orders was 8am to 8pm – but the companies' interrogators kept questioning Lackman until midnight, the court heard.
The beak also observed that the cable companies' investigators further went over the top in demanding that Lackman give them new evidence; this is explicitly forbidden under a Piller order, which is supposed to preserve evidence.
"I am of the view that its true purpose was to destroy the livelihood of the defendant, and deny him the financial resources to finance a defense to the claim made against him," the judge wrote.
"The defendant has demonstrated that he has an arguable case that he is not violating the [Copyright] Act," the judge continued, adding that by the plaintiffs' own estimate, only about one per cent of Lackman's add-ons were allegedly used to pirate content.
He ruled in favor of Lackman, which meant the cable gang had to pay him the CA$50,000 they had put down in a bond to get the Piller order. That's cold comfort for Lackman, who is already CA$100,000 in the hole for legal fees, and he still can't get his computer equipment and phones back just yet because the plaintiffs have filed an appeal.
"At this point, there is no choice but to fight," Lackman said. He has also just set up an Indiegogo page to tell his side of the story and fund his defense against the telecoms giants. About US$16,000 has been raised as of the time of publication. In the meantime, Lackman has resurrected the TVAddons website. ®