copy culture by Will Lion (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/4ZvMLY

copy culture by Will Lion (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/4ZvMLY

News

Dialling Up the Bell Lobbying Playbook: Production Company Website Blocking Submissions Using Identical Script

With just over a week left in the CRTC’s comment period on the Bell coalition website blocking proposal, the Commission has now received thousands of comments with the vast majority opposing the plan. While supporters of the site blocking approach have dismissed the opposition, Bell’s tactics in drumming up support deserves further examination. Last month, I blogged about its astroturfing campaign, which involved encouraging employees to submit comments without any reference to the need to disclose their corporate affiliation.

In addition to the internal efforts, Bell has clearly reached out to others with template language that can be used for submissions. Some customize their submissions, but many simply copy the supplied language verbatim. In fact, in some instances the language mirrors talking points included on the public site blocking site. For example, the FairPlay site FAQ states:

Piracy websites and services are operated anonymously online from jurisdictions all over the world, making it difficult or impossible to identify the people responsible for them or to bring enforcement actions. It is unreasonable to expect an artist or a small Canadian production company to track down and sue multiple anonymous parties operating in other countries every time they identify their content being stolen.

This is repeated in multiple submissions that copy the FAQ language. For example, the submission from Highway Entertainment:

Piracy websites operate anonymously online from jurisdictions all over the world, making it difficult to identify the people responsible for them or take action against them. It is unreasonable to expect an artist or a small Canadian production company to track down and sue multiple anonymous parties operating in other countries every time they identify their content being stolen.

and from Productions Casablanca:

Piracy websites operate anonymously online from jurisdictions all over the world, making it difficult to identify the people responsible for them or take action against them. It is unreasonable to expect an artist or a small Canadian production company to track down and sue multiple anonymous parties operating in other countries every time they identify their content being stolen.

and from Proper Television:

Piracy websites operate anonymously online from jurisdictions all over the world, making it difficult to identify the people responsible for them or take action against them. It is unreasonable to expect an artist or a small Canadian production company to track down and sue multiple anonymous parties operating in other countries every time they identify their content being stolen.

and from Great Pacific Television (with typo):

Piracy websites operate anonymously online from jurisdictions all over the world, making it difficult to identify the people responsible for them or take action against them. It is unreasonable to expect an artist or a small Canadian production company to track down and sure [sic] multiple anonymous parties operating in other countries every time they identify their content being stolen.

The same repetition of the script occurs with respect to claims that the website blocking proposal is similar to those found in 20 other countries (this is simply untrue given that the absence of a court order makes the Canadian system a clear outlier). The scripted language:

Anti-piracy regimes like the one proposed by FairPlay have been proven to work. 20 countries, including most of Canada’s closest international partners, have adopted similar regimes and have reported significant reductions to piracy as a result of the measures taken. It is high time Canada followed their lead.

This same paragraph appears word-for-word in submissions from Shaftesbury Films, Proper Television, Great Pacific Television, Productions Casablanca, and Highway Entertainment. Others, including Insight Productions and Pier 21 Films offer near-identical language.

This approach is typical of Bell’s advocacy approach. In 2011, I chronicled the repeat language from politicians such as Patrick Brown in support of its proposed merger with CTV.  In 2016, it lined up near-identical support from city mayors on a broadband appeal, sparking a Toronto city council motion opposing the mayor’s letter.

None of this is particularly surprising and it goes without saying that everyone should be encouraged to provide their views to the CRTC. However, those quick to dismiss public submissions as ill-informed or the result of organized campaigns should take a closer look at Bell’s astroturfing efforts and its outreach to supporters who profess concern with the issue but simply file submissions that do little more than copy-paste supplied language from Bell onto corporate letterhead.

4 Comments

  1. Fred Brumwell says:

    I’m against Bell’s proposal. However this is the exact same tactic being employed by OpenMedia to fight it; giving users a script to copy, and including links on how to submit it. Fair is fair.

  2. Pingback: Outlier: Why Bell's Leadership on Website Blocking Places It at Odds With Telecom Companies Around the World - Michael Geist

  3. Kelly Manning says:

    Sometimes attempts to astroturf backfire.

    The Koch Bros have had to pull funding on “Tea Party” groups that went off message and opposed Kock inspired state laws prohibiting or discouraging solar and wind power.

    https://harpers.org/blog/2017/05/green-tea-party/

    https://climatecrocks.com/2013/08/12/the-koch-brothers-worst-nightmare-a-green-tea-coalition/

  4. Kelly Manning says:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
    Upton Sinclair

    We saw something similar with regards to the Transmountain pipeline, where a couple of hundred oil industry workers were bused in from Alberta as a supposed counter to thousands of people protesting Kinder Morgan’s expansion.

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