Bell-owned sports media network TSN lobbied Brock University to encourage a letter of support for the FairPlay Canada anti-piracy coalition, according to University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist.
Documents obtained by Geist through Ontario’s access to information laws reveal that TSN senior vice president of production Mark Milliere connected with Brock University vice president of administration Brian Hutchings, asking Hutchings to write a letter of support for FairPlay Canada — of which Bell is a founding member.
MobileSyrup has not had the opportunity to review original copies of the documents.
Milliere was able to connect with Hutchings through Ryerson University professor Cheri Bradish — a former Brock professor — according to Geist.
“The pressure at Brock was presumably mirrored at other organizations…” — Michael Geist
Furthermore, Geist reported that the same records indicate that Milliere sent to Hutchings a copy of the letter that Ryerson University submitted supporting FairPlay Canada, asking Hutchings to submit a copy on Brock letterhead to Bell.
“The request points to a clear Bell strategy of obtaining support letters to shop around to other potential targets as the Ryerson letter was not public at the time and only filed nearly a week after the Hutchings letter,” wrote Geist, in a May 9th, 2018 blog post.
Geist wrote that he believes “the Bell backroom pressure on universities is not particularly surprising.”
“The pressure at Brock was presumably mirrored at other organizations, confirming yet again the the FairPlay ‘coalition’ was a Bell-led initiative and raising the question of which supportive interventions were the direct result of Bell outreach to business partners, grant recipients, or others beholden to Canada’s largest communications company,” wrote Geist, in the same May 9th post.
MobileSyrup has reached out to Cheri Bradish, the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA), Brian Hutchings and Bell for comment. This story will be updated with a response.
Connecting the dots
According to Geist, Brock University is only one of three Canadian institutions that submitted comments in support of FairPlay Canada.
“I believe there were two other Ontario universities or colleges that submitted in support of FairPlay — Ryerson and George Brown College,” said Geist, in an email interview with MobileSyrup. “It is fair to say those submissions raise the same questions and concerns.”
Geist said that the Brock University submission is especially notable because of the backlash it has generated within Brock itself.
“Vice president Hutching’s [sic] intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community…” — Brock University Faculty Association
In his May 9th post, Geist reported that Brock’s interim provost and vice-president of academic Thomas Dunk wrote to the CRTC that Hutchings’ submission “does not represent an official position of the totality of opinions at Brock University.”
Additionally, the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA) submitted its own letter to the CRTC opposing Hutchings’s letter.
“Vice-President Hutching’s [sic] intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole,” wrote the BUFA, in an email to MobileSyrup.
“…I wanted to know whether pressure from a coalition member sparked it” — Michael Geist
Geist said he began investigating the Brock situation because he was anxious to learn why Brock University representatives seemed to be taking different stances on the FairPlay Canada issue.
“Given the public disagreement on the Brock submission — it’s not everyday that an organization submits something only to have a senior official disown it — I was anxious to learn more about how the submission was created in the first place,” Geist told MobileSyrup.
“Moreover, since most of the academic community opposed the FairPlay application, I wanted to know whether pressure from a coalition member sparked it. It turns out that it did.”
An overview of FairPlay Canada
FairPlay Canada is an anti-piracy media organization comprised of 25 organizations, including Bell, Rogers, Quebecor and the CBC.
The coalition’s ultimate goal is to convince the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to establish the Independent Piracy Review Agency (IRPA). IRPA would be able to identify website “blatantly engaged” in content theft and take action to block those websites.
While IRPA would be subject to Federal Court of Appeal oversight, the independent agency would be able to block websites without a court order.
Consumer advocates, like OpenMedia, have opposed FairPlay Canada’s position, arguing that the country’s existing system is more than sufficient to combat piracy.
Approximately 100,000 Canadian voices — including service providers like Telus and Shaw, and advocacy groups like Open Privacy — submitted comments to the CRTC by the Commission’s March 29th, 2018 deadline for part 1 interventions.
Source: Michael Geist