A group of more than 25 organizations including Bell, Rogers, Quebecor and the CBC, have come together to urge Canada’s telecom regulator to create an anti-piracy website blocking system.
The coalition, called FairPlay Canada, is proposing that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) establish an independent agency called the Independent Piracy Review Agency (IPRA), which would identify websites “blatantly engaged” in content theft.
According to FairPlay Canada’s suggestion, the CRTC would then require telecoms to “take measures to prevent such sites from reaching Canadians” — in other words, blocking those sites from the public.
The coalition proposes that the IPRA and CRTC process would be subject to oversight by the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA).
FairPlay Canada says the aim of this new tool is to save “the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work in the creative sector,” who are at risk as a result of increasing online piracy. Critics are already denouncing the initiative on the basis of its potential harm to Canadian net neutrality.
Commenting on an earlier draft of a proposal document that surfaced via Canadaland, University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist expressed criticism of the coalition’s efforts.
In a subsequent comment emailed to MobileSyrup following the filing of the official application, Geist reiterated his qualms, stating that the lack of court review prior to issuing a block order is “enormously problematic and raises serious due process concerns.”
Geist also stated that “there’s a real threat that this will gradually expand into demands for blocking of a wide range of other content, which raises obvious Charter of Rights and Freedoms concerns.”
Geist further thinks the proposal is on shaky legal ground, noting that current law only permits blocking in “exceptional circumstances” and he doesn’t believe this initiative meets that standard.
Brenda McPhail, director of privacy, technology and surveillance project at Canadian Civil Liberties Association, notes there’s already a solution to the issue the coalition is fighting against — copyright holders can go to court and get a takedown order.
“The problem is that it’s time consuming and, though they don’t say it, it’s expensive to go through the courts,” said McPhail.
“But the benefit of that is we’re sure it’s being given due consideration by individuals who are qualified to apply the law and who have no personal interest in the outcome.”
Even Canada’s own minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, has stated he believes there are already enough copyright protections.
“We understand that there are groups, including Bell, calling for additional tools to better fight piracy, particularly in the digital domain. Canada’s copyright system has numerous legal provisions and tools to help copyright owners protect their intellectual property, both online and in the physical realm,” Bains commented to MobileSyrup via email, adding: “We are committed to maintaining one of the best intellectual property and copyright frameworks in the world to support creativity and innovation to the benefit of artists, creators, consumers and all Canadians.”
“There’s a real threat that this will gradually expand into demands for blocking of a wide range of other content.”
Meanwhile, Katy Anderson of advocacy group Open Media likens the situation to “going after a mosquito with a machine gun.”
“We don’t think it’s fair that people’s work gets stolen,” she says, “The things is that piracy has gone down over the years. Piracy is solved with innovative content models. With the rise of streaming sites, music piracy has gone down. Once you make it easy for people to access, it’s too much of a pain to actually go pirate stuff.”
OpenMedia’s petition against the proposal, which began circulating when early drafts came to light, has already already reached over 45,000 signatures, according to the group. It also started a new petition, Stop Canada Censorship, in direct response to FairPlay Canada.
The proposal mirrors comments delivered by Bell to the Standing Committee On International Trade (CIIT) in September 2017, when the telecom made a push to address these issues in the NAFTA negotiations.
In addition to Bell, Rogers and Quebecor — all of which offer both internet services and media products — other members of the coalition include the CBC, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (partially owned by Rogers and Bell), Corus, Entertainment One, Cineplex and Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA).
“Piracy means that the content creators don’t get paid for their work.”
“Digital content piracy hurts everyone, those who watch and listen to content from legal sources and those in the creative industry that produce it,” said Randy Lennox, the president of Bell Media, in a January 29th, 2018 press statement.
“Digital rights holders need up-to-date tools to combat piracy where it’s happening, on the Internet, and the process proposed by the coalition will provide just that, fairly, openly and effectively. Bell is pleased to work with our partners across the industry and the CRTC on this important step in ensuring the long-term viability of the Canadian creative sector.”
Rogers echoed the sentiment, with Rick Brace, president of Rogers Media stating:
“We’re all for new ways of watching content, but piracy means that the content creators don’t get paid for their work. We believe this proposal represents a balanced and proven approach that goes after the people who illegally rebroadcast content. Taking action against piracy will ensure we can continue making and broadcasting the programming that Canadians love, while protecting the jobs of the Canadians who create it.”
Update 29/01/18: Updated with comment from ISED, Michael Geist, Katy Anderson and Brenda McPhail.