$20M awarded in class action after ‘high-handed’ website posted obit of Canadian woman’s dad as its own

by - 2 min read

$20M awarded in class action after ‘high-handed’ website posted obit of Canadian woman’s dad as its own

by - 2 min read

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Afterlife violated the copyrighted work of grieving families in order to make a profit, a judge in Ottawa ruled in ordering damages to be paid in a class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in Ottawa by Newfoundland lawyer Erin Best on behalf of client Dawn Thomson, who was shocked to find her father’s obituary on the website.

“Afterlife’s conduct, aptly characterized as ‘obituary piracy,’ is high-handed, reprehensible and represented a marked departure from standards of decency,” wrote Justice Catherine Kane.

Afterlife effectively copied and pasted obituaries and photographs that had been published elsewhere, and passed the content off as its own. 

It outraged families by selling memorial-themed products like candles and sympathy cards that unwitting friends and family could purchase — but with all the revenue going to Afterlife. 

She ordered Afterlife — run by Pascal Leclerc — to pay $20 million in damages, and an injunction against the website to prevent it from operating in the future.

Leclerc initially hired a lawyer to handle his defence, but eventually backed out of the proceedings, leading to Kane issuing a default judgment.

Shock and disgust

Thomson’s father, Denis Trainor, passed away in early 2017. A year later, she saw his obituary posted on Afterlife’s website, where people could pay for things like digital flowers and candles.

“Ms. Thomson described her outrage and mortification that others would think she sought to profit from her father’s death,” wrote Kane.

CBC News spoke to families across Canada who were outraged to find their loved ones on the website, despite never submitting obituaries to them.

Lawyer Erin Best says families at their most vulnerable were devastated to find obituaries and photos of their loved ones on the Afterlife website. (Photo courtesy Paul Kinsman)

Kane ruled the site had infringed on their copyrights by lifting the obituaries and photos of the deceased from other websites.

She awarded $10 million in statutory damages and $10 million in aggravated damages.

Best said once she announced she was filing a suit, she was bombarded with people who were furious, hurt, shocked and disgusted by Afterlife.

The Afterlife website had obituaries and photos posted from across Canada. (www.afterlife.co)

“You would have a heart of stone if you were not moved by these people,” she said. “They were absolutely devastated … they felt like it was a kick in the stomach at their most vulnerable time.”

The site had posted more than one million Canadian obituaries at the time it was taken down. Afterlife now directs people to another website, Everhere, which the judge said is also run by Leclerc.

Everhere drew ire in Saskatchewan last year when families of victims of the Humboldt Broncos crash learned it was selling similar products without their permission. 

Kane requested the injunction should name Leclerc personally, so he cannot continue posting obituaries on Everhere.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

This story originally appeared on CBC

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