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Hundreds of Eastlink customers are being sued for copyright infringement and being accused of downloading a movie through an illegal service.

They've received lawyer's letters stating they could face a hefty fine if found guilty.  Some think it's a hoax but as CTV News has learned, it's very real.

More than 440 Eastlink customers could be on the hook if they're found guilty in a copyright infringement case.

Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser says his firm is representing a number of people involved.

"A number of Hollywood studios have started lawsuits in the federal court and what they do is they name hundreds of John Does and then once they get the identity of those John Does with another court order against the internet service provider, then they start sending out these statements of claim through registered mail," Fraser said.

Letters were mailed out Feb. 21 from a law firm in Toronto on behalf of HB Productions.

It claims defendants illegally downloaded and shared the movie Hellboy through BitTorrent, a file transferring service.

Fraser says if you received one of these registered letters, don't ignore it, seek legal advice.

Recipients have to file a defence within 30 days.

"In some cases, individuals say it wasn't me, it was somebody else in my house, or my Wi-Fi isn't secure it must have been somebody else, and so if you don't respond within that time frame, you've lost that opportunity to do that," Fraser said. "It's a serious thing."

If ignored, defendants could automatically be found guilty and be fined up to $5,000.

Copyright expert Marc Belliveau calls this kind of claim "abusive."

"Some of these movies, frankly, are not very good, and these troll lawsuits are to supplement the revenue generated by the movie," said Belliveau, a lawyer with BoyneClarke in Dartmouth. "It didn't do very well at the box office, so let's sue everyone who downloaded it."

Belliveau says it's an unfortunate situation for low-income internet users who may not be able to afford legal advice.

"There should be some legislative solution, that the federal government either bans them, or sets out the test to be met by these film companies, so that the rights of individual cable subscribers, their rights to privacy is protected," Belliveau said.

Eastlink says it will never disclose personal information without consent, unless required by law.

In a situation like this one, the company is legally required to comply with any such court order.