Bell Media - Ottawa by Obert Madondo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Bell Media - Ottawa by Obert Madondo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


An Industry Divided: How Bell Broke With the Telecom Sector on Copyright

The news that Bell has called on the Canadian government to support radical copyright reform in NAFTA that includes North America-wide mandatory website blocking (to be overseen in Canada by the CRTC) and the full criminalization of copyright represents only the latest step in the transformation of the company into one of Canada’s most aggressive copyright lobbyists and litigators. The Bell proposals go beyond what even the CACN, Canada’s anti-counterfeiting lobby group, has recommended. While copyright lobbying has been led for years by the movie and music industries, Bell has now broken with most other communications companies on copyright policy with policies barely distinguishable from the RIAA or MPAA. In recent years, it has argued against VPN use, used the courts to target a wide range of sites and services, lobbied for copyright reform in trade deals, and become the only telecom company in the world to join the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment.

Even for a company accustomed to adopting unpopular policy positions (Bell is the only major Canadian ISP without a privacy transparency report, it initially rejected the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s finding that its targeted ad program violated the law, it paid $1.3 million for do-not-call violations, it sparked the fight on usage based billing, and it has been at the centre of net neutrality violation cases), the transformation from a company supportive of balanced copyright to one that prioritizes aggressive enforcement is noteworthy.

When the Canadian Recording Industry Association launched file sharing lawsuits against individual Canadians in 2004, Bell initially adopted a neutral position, neither opposing the suits nor supporting them (Shaw and Telus were far more committed to protecting their customers’ privacy). Over the years, Bell typically sided with other ISPs, zealously safeguarding its positions as an intermediary in the Supreme Court of Canada’s SOCAN v. CAIP decision and successfully fighting for fair dealing in the 2012 SOCAN v. Bell ruling. During the 2009 national consultation on copyright, Bell attended a Toronto public roundtable and expressed support for the positions of the Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright (which featured telecom companies as members and which voiced support for fair use and appropriate limits on digital locks).

Bell’s public positions on copyright are far different today. George Cope, BCE’s CEO, famously switched “from a telecom network guy to media guy” in 2010, when he viewed the Winter Olympics female gold medal hockey game on his cellphone. The media side of its business represents only 12 percent of its revenues (adding TV distribution would increase that percentage), but the company now acts like an old guard media company when it comes to copyright. Former Bell Media Presidents Kevin Crull and Mary Ann Turcke took aim at VPN use in 2015, with Turcke claiming that using a VPN to access U.S. Netflix constituted theft. Data suggested that infringement rates were dropping dramatically on the Bell network, but Bell became active in the courts with lawsuits against distributors of digital TV boxes and the website TVAddons, a Kodi TV site. The ongoing suit against TVAddons was particularly newsworthy, as a federal court judge found that the true purpose was to “destroy the livelihood of the defendant.”

Earlier this year, Bell became an inaugural member of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, a new anti-piracy group. Membership costs Bell US$200,000 annually, for which it gets to suggest targets for law enforcement and to utilize the MPAA’s anti-piracy resources. Bell the only Canadian company in the motion picture association backed alliance.

Bell’s emergence as one of Canada’s most aggressive copyright lobbyists and litigators has major implications for future copyright reform in Canada. Leaving aside its enormously problematic NAFTA proposals, Bell seems likely to split from the rest of the industry when it comes to future copyright reform issues. While Rogers, Telus, and the rest of the telecom and ISP industry are likely to maintain support for copyright balance (including intermediary safe harbours and the notice-and-notice system), Bell may focus on greater enforcement activities, with its support for website blocking and increased criminalization of copyright the most obvious manifestation of its changing policy position.

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  1. Devil's Advocate says:

    So, even though Canada hasn’t passed any ruling similar to the “Citizen’s United” one in the U.S., it’s becoming quite obvious that money is already accepted as “speech” up here.

    Must be nice to be able to actually write the laws that are supposed to be governing your own behaviour.

  2. If you’re with Bell, presumably because there is nothing else in your area, then change your DNS settings to bypass their servers.

  3. Just another example illustrating that Bell has so much gall it could be divided into three parts.

    It seems that the company has never quite forgiven the government – or the people of the country – for allowing competitors to enter the home phone and long distance markets long before cable became a way to control the content entering the living room via a television, a cable box or through the intertube machine on your phone.

    As a result, it is doing everything it can dream up to punish consumers. It’s time for the government, using the CRTC, to probe whether Bell should be broken into a number of companies.

    • Devil's Advocate says:

      Or, at least separate the CONTENT and SERVICE providers. Allowing companies like Bell and Rogers to provide both is part of why we’re in the mess we’re in.

      I would also go as far as to say the “service” infrastructure should be owned either by the Public, or by some neutral body. When providers get to own the infrastructure, they get to control all competitive activity, including who gets to compete and whether future infrastructure even gets built.

      • eleven dragola says:

        Absolutely correct. “the “service” infrastructure should be owned either by the Public, or by some neutral body. When providers get to own the infrastructure, they get to control all competitive activity, including who gets to compete and whether future infrastructure even gets built.”

        That is, the entire country should follow the example of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, which is building out 10Gb wired last mile over time to every building For now on the limited route. “every home or business on the route will be capable of 10 Gbps from day one, although 1 Gbps will be the standard offering,” The north shore of NB has 100Gbps through F6 all the way from Campbelltown to Miramichi..

  4. Happens with tax laws too. Big chartered accountancy firms help right the tax laws and then aid their clients to avoid taxes up to and including offshore tax havens

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  6. Terry Brown says:

    Only half of what we see is true. Please stop making your living by exaggerating and right out bullshit. Way too much garbage and filth and lies on the internet. At least Bell has the guts to do something about it. Might not be the best of intentions but this crap has to slow down. Bell is not right or wrong. The cure is a TRUTH CONTROL FILTER. Now that I would support.

    • Mahfuz Khalili says:

      “Way too much garbage and filth and lies on the internet” – this is a subjective statement. Under no circumstances our democratic rights and freedom of choice should be sold over to the greedy CEO’s who takes obscene amount of paychecks at the expense of millions of consumers. Getting out of monopoly of Bell has not been easy, now Bell executives are trying to regain the exclusive control over everything the consumers achieved in the past decade by going through the backdoor of NAFTA bypassing Canadian System.

    • Christopher OBrien says:

      You would be the type of dimwit cheering the loss of people’s human rights. Go Bell, let us pay more for less and hooray censorship! Who are you?

    • From beyond the grave, the wisdom of Chairman Mao…

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