Bell-led FairPlay Canada coalition responds to critics in formal response to CRTC

The coalition’s anti-piracy, website-blocking proposal is currently under review by the CRTC

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The Bell-led coalition lobbying the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to establish an independent anti-piracy, website-blocking agency has submitted its formal response to critics.

Released to the public on May 15th, 2018, FairPlay Canada’s lengthy response engages with critics on a point-by-point basis, addressing most of the scrutiny and skepticism that has been lobbed at the coalition.

FairPlay Canada’s central goal is to convince the CRTC that an independent agency, dubbed the Independent Piracy Review Agency (IPRA), should be responsible for blocking websites that are “blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy.”

Over the course of 61 pages, FairPlay Canada — originally comprised of 25 Canadian media companies, and now claiming 30 organizations under its banner — reiterated this anti-piracy position.

“The coalition does not intend or expect that it would or could apply to the legitimate platforms…”

“The theft of content by often anonymous and foreign-based operators of piracy sites is a significant problem for Canadian creators, consumers, legal businesses, and the Canadian economy,” said FairPlay Canada, in its response document.

In addition to restating its anti-piracy mission, FairPlay Canada further argued that groups don’t need to worry that IPRA would inadvertently block so-called “legitimate platforms.”

“The coalition does not intend or expect that it would or could apply to the legitimate platforms (such as Snapchat, Google Drive, or YouTube) identified as a concern by intervenors nor to VPN and similar services used for legitimate privacy-protection or other purposes,” reads an excerpt from FairPlay’s submission. “There is no evidence to suggest the Commission would do any differently.”

“…net neutrality rules in the US and EU did not and do not apply to unlawful content.”

FairPlay further argued that Canadian internet service providers would only ever block websites that were formally deemed unlawful by the IPRA. As such, companies like Bell and Rogers Media — both members of the FairPlay Canada coalition — wouldn’t act without oversight.

“Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the Commission would accede to any call to extend the regime inappropriately,” reads an excerpt from FairPlay’s document. “In the coalition’s view, the Commission can be relied upon to keep the regime restricted to its original purpose.”

“There are many principled reasons why a regime that is appropriate to address the issue of piracy may not be appropriate for other equally or more problematic content.”

“…ISPs would have no ability to act unilaterally…”

FairPlay’s document also argued that the coalition supports net neutrality — a point that was most recently challenged publicly by a House of Commons committee.

“No intervenor has pointed to any authority for the notion that net neutrality prevents the government from regulating ISPs to reduce the impact of harmful and illegal content online, and net neutrality rules in the US and EU did not and do not apply to unlawful content,” said FairPlay Canada, in the same CRTC submission.

“In other words, ISPs would have no ability to act unilaterally or to determine which sites are and are not treated as piracy sites under the regime.”

FairPlay responds to advocates and consumer groups

While FairPlay Canada’s reply submission focused mainly on statistics and legal analysis, the document also took time to specifically address criticism put forward by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).

FairPlay’s May 14th submission criticized the PIAC’s methodology, as well as the advocacy group’s arguments, and even suggested that “it is fundamentally flawed and should be given no weight.”

The coalition’s response document also suggested that the PIAC misinterpreted key data.

“While these are not the only errors that PIAC has made in its calculations, they are more than sufficient to illustrate why no reliance at all can be placed on them,” reads an excerpt from FairPlay’s response.

“There are a number of obviously false interventions …”

That being said, the PIAC wasn’t the only advocacy group that drew FairPlay Canada’s ire.

Groups like digital rights advocacy group OpenMedia, the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications (FRPC) and Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) were all summarily dismissed by FairPlay.

In particular, FairPlay Canada expressed disapproval with the campaigns undertaken by OpenMedia and CIPPIC, on the basis that individuals affiliated with these groups who submitted comments to the CRTC critical of FairPlay Canada were doing so based on misinformation.

“There are a number of obviously false interventions and the identity, veracity, and location of the others can generally not be confirmed,” said FairPlay Canada, in its response document. “In the case of the petitions, there are more than 14,000 identified duplicate entries, and an unknowable number of other false entries.”

For its part, an OpenMedia spokesperson told MobileSyrup that the group will continue its work to fight for citizens’ rights.

“We saw on our National Day of action just how unpopular this deeply flawed proposal from the rights holders is,” said David Paris, OpenMedia’s campaigns director, in an email to MobileSyrup. “More than one hundred thousand people in Canada raised their concerns with the CRTC.”

“No matter how hard the so-called FairPlay Coalition tries to dismiss them, we’ll continue do what we always do: make sure the views and interests of ordinary people are represented. We will not allow Bell and the other giants to bully their way into having their demands met.”

What comes next

Now that FairPlay Canada has had an opportunity to submits its reply to comments, it’s up to the CRTC to issue a decision on the coalition’s ruling.

In the event that the CRTC rules in favour of establishing the IPRA — thereby approving FairPlay Canada’s application — a branch of the federal government has already expressed interest in challenging the Commission.

In its report on net neutrality, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics recommended that Parliament exercise its legal rights and request that the CRTC reconsider its decision should it decide in favour of FairPlay.