In a decision believed to be the largest award in Canada to date for copyright infringement, the Federal Court of Canada has awarded over $10 million to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation for copyright infringement of its The Simpsons and Family Guy television programs.
Twentieth Century Fox asserted that the defendant, Mr. Hernandez, offered entire episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy for viewing by the public on his Watch Family Guy Online (WFGO) and Watch The Simpsons Online (WTSO) websites. All episodes from all seasons were apparently offered on the sites totalling at least 700 separate episodes.
The Court agreed that Mr. Hernandez had copied The Simpsons and Family Guy programs, uploaded the unauthorized copies to computer file servers, and enabled the public to download, stream and/or copy the unauthorized content via the Internet and through the WFGO and WTSO websites.
In its judgment, the Federal Court awarded Twentieth Century Fox $10,000,000.00 in statutory damages, $500,000.00 in punitive and exemplary damages, $78,575.25 in costs, as well as interest. In addition to the monetary judgment, the Court issued an injunction restraining Mr. Hernandez from further infringing Twentieth Century Fox’ copyright in The Simpsons and Family Guy programs and ordered him to deliver up to Twentieth Century Fox all copies of the programs and related documents and materials in his possession.
The order was issued by the Court on a default judgement motion. Such motions may be brought in cases where a defendant fails to file a statement of defence. However, a defendant in Federal Court who has not filed a responding pleading is not deemed to admit the allegations in the statement of claim. Accordingly, a plaintiff seeking default judgment must prove its case to the Court with sufficient evidence. Twentieth Century Fox succeeded in doing so given that it secured a significant statutory damages award.
In Canada, statutory damages of between $500.00 and $20,000.00 per work infringed are available for copyright infringement when the infringement is for commercial purposes. In this case, the Court found that Mr. Hernandez’ infringement was indeed for commercial purposes. The pleading noted that Mr. Hernandez derived revenue from the WFGO and WTSO sites through various means including through pay-per-click advertisements and by driving traffic to other commercial websites. Based on the over 700 works at issue, the Court’s award of $10 million in statutory damages represents an award of approximately $14,000.00 per work (i.e., per television episode). With respect to the award of $500,000.00 for punitive and exemplary damages, the Court noted that Mr. Hernandez’ infringement was blatant, repeated, high-handed and intentional, and that he acted in bad faith showing callous disregard for the Plaintiff’s copyright rights.
This decision shows the real teeth that the Canadian Copyright Act has and that plaintiffs can secure substantial relief from the Canadian Federal Court in cases of extensive infringement.