Last year, Bell and its supporters denied that its “Fairplay” site blocking plan would apply to virtual private networks (VPNs). Yet as first reported by the Wire Report (sub required), Bell asked the Canadian government to target some VPNs in its submission on the NAFTA re-negotiations. Throughout the site blocking debate, many cited concerns that the Bell coalition plan would expand beyond certain websites to VPNs. For example, I posted:
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.
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The Bell coalition website blocking proposal downplays concerns about over-blocking that often accompanies site blocking regimes by arguing that it will be limited to “websites and services that are blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy.” Having discussed piracy issues in Canada and how the absence of a court order makes the proposal an outlier with virtually every country that has permitted site blocking, the case against the website blocking plan now turns to the inevitability of over-blocking that comes from expanding the block list or from the technical realities of mandating site blocking across hundreds of ISPs for millions of subscribers. This post focuses on the likely expansion of the scope of piracy for the purposes of blocking and the forthcoming posts will discuss other sources of blocking over-reach.
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The Trudeau government has thus far said very little about its plans for future digital and copyright policy reform. There were few references in its election platform and the ministerial mandate letters that identify immediate policy priorities did not speak to the issue.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that according to ministerial briefing documents recently released by the government, Canadian Heritage officials have told new minister Mélanie Joly that emerging issues may include targeting the use of virtual private networks and website blocking. The comments can be found in a departmental briefing for Joly on copyright policy, which includes a discussion titled “what’s next” for copyright.
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Bell’s recent characterization of Canadians using virtual private networks to access U.S. Netflix as thieves has attracted considerable attention. Yesterday, I posted on why accessing U.S. Netflix is not theft, noting that a minority of Canadian Netflix subscribers use VPNs and arguing that the frustration seems rooted in business concerns rather than legal ones. The post added that Netflix and CraveTV (Bell’s online video service) have little overlap in content. Working with Kavi Sivasothy, one of my research students, we took a closer look at the libraries of Netflix U.S., Netflix Canada, and CraveTV. We relied on AllFlicks.net for the Netflix data and CraveTV’s own A to Z page for its data.
Based on that information, how many titles does CraveTV offer that overlap with Netflix U.S. and are not available on Netflix Canada? Not many. In fact, the data suggests that there are some CraveTV titles that are not available on Netflix U.S., but are available on Netflix Canada. Overall, more than 90 percent of CraveTV’s titles are not available on either Netflix U.S. or Netflix Canada. [UPDATE: Thanks to a reader for pointing out a few omissions from the chart. The error was due to different spelling in the Netflix and CraveTV lists. The numbers have been updated].
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Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke sparked an uproar last week when she told a telecom conference that Canadians who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access the U.S. version of Netflix are stealing. Turcke is not the first Canadian broadcast executive to raise the issue – her predecessor Kevin Crull and Rogers executive David Purdy expressed similar frustration with VPN use earlier this year – but her characterization of paying customers as thieves was bound to garner attention.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that Turcke’s comments provide evidence of the mounting frustration among Canadian broadcasters over Netflix’s remarkable popularity in Canada. Netflix launched in Canada less than five years ago, yet reports indicate that it now counts 40 per cent of English-speaking Canadians as subscribers. By contrast, Bell started its Mobile TV service within weeks of the Netflix launch, but today has less than half the number of subscribers.
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