Thwarting Pirates Comes With Complexities
It should be simple banning pirate websites that enable copyright infringement, right? In theory, yes, but who creates the list and decides what is infringement makes the move to legislate an emotional and intellectual quagmire. It also opens the door to government censorship of the web.
By External Source
Once the list of piracy sites (whatever the standard) is addressed, it is very likely that the Bell coalition will turn its attention to other sites and services such as virtual private networks (VPNs). This is not mere speculation. Rather, it is taking Bell and its allies at their word on how they believe certain services and sites constitute theft. The use of VPNs, which enhance privacy but also allow users to access out-of-market content, has been sore spot for the companies for many years. In 2015, Rogers executive David Purdy reportedly called for shutting down VPNs, while Bell executive Mary Ann Turcke specifically targeted VPN usage to access U.S. Netflix, telling an industry conference:
“It has to become socially unacceptable to admit to another human being that you are VPNing into U.S. Netflix. Like throwing garbage out your car window – you just don’t do it. We have to get engaged and tell people they are stealing. When we were young and made the error of swiping candy bars at the checkout of the grocery store, what did our parents do? They marched us back in, humiliated us, told us to apologize to the nice lady and likely scolded us on the way home.”
In the aftermath of those comments, briefing notes for Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly identified VPNs as an emerging copyright issue. The comments equating VPN use to theft echo the remarks being made today by the Bell coalition about piracy sites and services. Further, since the response to site blocking from some Internet users will surely involve increased use of VPNs to evade the blocks, the attempt to characterize VPNs as services engaged in piracy will only increase. VPN services are already targeted by IP lobby groups such as the IIPA and can be expected to face demands for blocking (similar to the way Netflix and Hulu have cracked down on VPN use).
Beyond VPNs, it would not be surprising to find legitimate services streaming unlicensed content as the next target. With Bell characterizing accessing U.S. Netflix as stealing, the company may call for blocking of content from foreign services without Canadian rights. In fact, that is precisely what Bell argued in 2015 in the context of U.S. television signals. Kevin Crull, then president of Bell Media, told a conference:
Canada is the only country in the world that allows American networks to be retransmitted without restriction despite valid and exclusive copyrights held by domestic broadcasters…Do we need [the American over-the-air] networks? Are these signals necessary for Canadian viewers? No. Canadian networks buy the rights to 99 of the top 100 American shows. No viewer would be denied popular content.
The Bell solution was simple: block U.S. signals on cable and satellite services. The argument in the Internet streaming service context will be the same, namely that Canadian rights holders are having their rights undermined by the accessibility of unlicensed U.S. streams that constitute infringement in Canada. Given the past arguments against access to these sites and services, which Bell coalition members have called “stealing” and “theft”, the steady expansion of the block list seems like an inevitability, which is why the exclusion of Parliament in setting policy and the courts in reaching any determination with respect to blocking is a step in the wrong direction. – Excerpted from the Michael Geist blog post of Feb. 16