Canadians accustomed to illegally downloading copyrighted material without facing consequences could be in for a shock this year.

The final piece of the federal Copyright Modernization Act took effect on Jan. 1, requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) and website hosts to relay letters from copyright holders to customers associated with the unique Internet Protocol (IP) address where the illegal downloading is alleged to have occurred.

While such notices do not carry any immediate legal ramifications, Internet lawyer Allen Mendelsohn told CTV’s Canada AM that they do serve as “a warning” that a copyright holder has noticed illegal downloading activity at your IP address, and could decide to sue.

The law does not include a stipulation that the customer must stop downloading the material or remove it from any websites to which they may have posted, but it does allow a copyright holder to sue individuals. Lawsuits could seek up to $5,000 for downloading copyrighted material for personal use, and up to $20,000 for a download that led to commercial gain.

While the cost of litigation, and the relatively small return, could discourage copyright holders from suing, Mendelsohn notes it could be more worthwhile to sue a large number of people at once.

The ISP or website host must also keep the notification letters for six months, should the copyright holder decide to sue. However, the ISP or website host cannot hand over your personal information unless a lawsuit is launched.

In the meantime, receiving such a letter may be enough to compel the customer to stop downloading copyrighted material, he said.

Customers should expect to receive a notice via email, Mendelsohn said.