The problems associated with Canada’s copyright notice-and-notice system have been well chronicled. The Canadian system – which was acknowledged as equivalent to the U.S. notice-and-takedown approach in the TPP – allows rights holders to send notifications alleging infringement to intermediaries who are obligated to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The intermediary does not disclose the identity of the subscriber and it falls to the rights holder to pursue further action if they so choose. Unfortunately, the failure to include regulations stipulating what may be included in a forwarded notice has led to rampant misuse of the system, with anti-piracy companies sending millions of notifications that include demands for payments over unproven allegations.
The need to fix the notice-and-notice system should be a 2017 Copyright Act review priority, though the solution lies in adopting regulations that do not require a legislative overhaul. The issue is attracting increasing attention and made its way onto the floor of the House of Commons this week as NDP MP Brian Masse directly asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about it:
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The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), a lobby group that represents the major lobbying associations for music, movie, software, and book publishing in the United States, has released its submission to the U.S. government as part of the Special 301 process. The Special 301 process leads to an annual report invariably claiming that intellectual property rules in the majority of the world do not meet U.S. standards. The U.S. process has long been rejected by the Canadian government, which has consistently (and rightly) stated that the exercise produces little more than a lobbying document on behalf of U.S. industry. The Canadian position, as described to a House of Commons committee in 2007 (and repeated regularly in internal government documents):
In regard to the watch list, Canada does not recognize the 301 watch list process. It basically lacks reliable and objective analysis. It’s driven entirely by U.S. industry. We have repeatedly raised this issue of the lack of objective analysis in the 301 watch list process with our U.S. counterparts.
The lack of credibility stems in part from the annual IIPA submission. While the submission generates some media attention, this year’s falls squarely into the category of fake news. The IIPA focuses on three concerns: piracy rates in Canada, the notice-and-notice system for allegations of infringement, and fair dealing. None of the concerns withstand even mild scrutiny and each is addressed below.
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The centerpiece of Canada’s 2012 digital copyright reforms was the legal implementation of the “notice-and-notice” system that seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders, the privacy rights of Internet users, and the legal obligations of Internet service providers (ISPs). The law makes it easy for copyright owners to send infringement notices to ISPs, who are legally required to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The personal information of subscribers is not disclosed to the copyright owner.
Despite the promise of the notice-and-notice system, it has been misused virtually from the moment it took effect with copyright owners exploiting a loophole in the law by sending settlement demands within the notices.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the government has tried to warn recipients that they need not settle – the Office of Consumer Affairs advises that there are no obligations on a subscriber that receives a notice and that getting a notice does not necessarily mean you will be sued – yet many subscribers panic when they receive notifications and promptly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.
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The Trouble with the TPP series focuses today on the TPP’s effort to regulate how Internet providers and hosts address allegations of copyright infringement on their networks and sites (prior posts include Day 1: US Blocks Balancing Provisions, Day 2: Locking in Digital Locks, Day 3: Copyright Term Extension). The goals of the U.S. and Canadian government in the negotiations were clear from the outset: the U.S. wanted to export its DMCA notice-and-takedown system to the rest of the TPP, while Canada wanted to preserve its newly created notice-and-notice approach (more on the notice-and-notice system, which does a better job of striking a balance and preserving user privacy, here). In fact, Canada rushed through the notice-and-notice system without regulations (causing major problems of misleading notices) in order to argue that it should not be required to adopt the U.S. approach.
The end result is a compromise that allows Canada to maintain notice-and-notice, but no other TPP country can adopt it in order to comply with the ISP liability and notice rules. The Canadian rules can be found in Annex 18-E, which states that the standard TPP ISP rules do not apply to a country that meets the conditions of the annex “as from the date of agreement in principle of this Agreement.” Since that date is now long passed (October 4, 2015), no other TPP country can implement the notice-and-notice system to meet its TPP obligations. It should be noted that Chile, which objected to the special treatment for Canada, obtained a similar exception for its system based on the U.S. – Chile Free Trade Agreement in Annex 18-F.
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The 2012 Canadian copyright reform law featured several “made in Canada” provisions that the Conservative government touted as striking a better balance than rules found elsewhere. At the top of the list was the notice-and-notice system for Internet providers. Minister James Moore (then of Canadian Heritage and later Industry) specifically cited the Canadian system as an example of how Canada had “rejected the American style approaches on massive parts of our legislation.” Yet a close reading of the leaked version of the Trans Pacific Partnership intellectual property chapter suggests that Canada may just have agreed to establish a copyright takedown system.
The preservation of the notice-and-notice was a top copyright priority for the Canadian government, so much so that it caved on copyright term extension and implemented digital lock rules that were widely criticized by the Canadian public. However, the negotiators may have failed to keep a notice-and-takedown system out of Canada. Section I of the copyright chapter creates a U.S. style notice-and-takedown system. The Canadian solution was to create a special annex that provides an alternative to the U.S. approach. While the annex was designed specifically for Canada, it would appear that it fails to prevent copyright takedowns from coming to Canada.
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