Website-blocking plan to fight online piracy rejected by CRTC
Canada’s telecom regulator rejected an industry proposal for a website-blocking regime to fight pirated content, stating it does not have the jurisdiction to implement a scheme that it said conflicts with copyright law.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday denied an application from FairPlay Canada, a coalition of major broadcasters and creative groups, that asked it to set up an independent agency to identify blatant pirates and force internet service providers to block users from their websites.
The coalition, which included BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Quebecor Inc., argued the system was needed to thwart the online piracy that puts thousands of cultural jobs at risk.
But the CRTC concluded that mechanisms to enforce online copyright already exist.
While it acknowledged illegal streaming harms Canada’s broadcasting system, it determined online piracy would be better examined in ongoing reviews of copyright, broadcasting and telecommunications legislation. It did not evaluate the scope of piracy in Canada or the extent to which it causes harm.
Consumer advocates and internet policy experts praised the decision as a win for open internet. Of the nearly 10,000 public comments the CRTC received on the proposal, many feared overzealous website blocking from an agency that would operate without court oversight. Others questioned the proposal’s effectiveness, given that shutting down pirate websites can be like a game of whack-a-mole.
“The FairPlay submission was a sledgehammer in search of a fly to squash,” Byron Holland, president of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, said in a statement.
CIRA believes the existing legal regime is enough to protect content holders’ rights, he added.
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet law at the University of Ottawa, agreed the ongoing legislative review is a better place to address online piracy than trying to wedge the proposed regime into the CRTC’s mandate.
“This was always outside the CRTC’s purview. This was ultimately about copyright,” he said.
Indeed, Canada’s copyright regime was updated in 2012 to try to address the illegal distribution of copyright material online. The government introduced a “noticeand-notice” system that requires copyright holders to notify internet service providers of alleged infringement. Providers receive millions of these notices annually and must pass them to consumers.
FairPlay’s proposal, however, was more in line with the “noticeand-take-down” approach used in the jurisdictions including the European Union and the United States, which require internet providers to remove or block access to content if they receive reasonable infringement claims. Canadian lawmakers rejected that approach, the CRTC noted in its decision.
“The creation of new copyright remedies under the Telecommunications Act in the absence of clear statutory language would conflict with Parliament’s intent in creating an exhaustive copyright code in the Copyright Act,” the CRTC stated.
The decision marks the apparent end to a proposal that Bell first pitched to the CRTC in private meetings last fall, months before the formal application was filed in January. Bell was joined by other institutions including media producers, actors, unions, the CBC and TIFF.
But FairPlay Canada said the CRTC’s decision gives content creators limited recourse in the face of online pirates.
“It’s a decision that leaves Canadian content creators with little recourse when it comes to protecting their work from illegal content piracy, most of which originates in foreign jurisdictions beyond the reach of Canadian copyright law,” Asian Television Network International Ltd. President Shan Chandrasekar said in a statement on behalf of the coalition.
The coalition will work with the federal government as it reviews copyright law to strengthen legal protections for content creators, Chandrasekar said.
“Modernizing existing criminal provisions in the Act and significantly enhancing copyright enforcement are what’s needed to help protect artists, producers and other developers of Canadian content from piracy.”
As politicians grapple with copyright legislation, questions remain over the size of Canada’s piracy problem and the best way to eliminate illegal behaviour in an era where it’s so easy to stream content online. Law professor Geist believes that any solution needs to embrace legal online streaming services.
“While piracy hasn’t disappeared by any measure, the Canadian public is gravitating towards authorized services, they’re paying for content more and more as services become convenient and affordable.”