The Bell playbook for its website blocking proposal has largely followed a familiar narrative. Much like the “Fair for Canada” campaign in 2013 that was designed to convince Canadians that keeping foreign competitors such as Verizon out of the country was in their best interest, the FairPlay Canada campaign similarly tries to make the case that a coalition of supporters want the CRTC to institute website blocking without court orders. The campaign clearly starts with Bell: they first raised the issue in September at a House of Commons committee hearing, obtained the legal opinion to support the application (it is addressed to Bell), and used a closely allied law firm to draft the application.
Proponents of the website blocking plan have relied heavily on character attacks (“anti-copyright”, demagoguery, etc.) to counter criticism of the plan. Yet move beyond the ad hominem attacks and the merits of the site blocking application quickly fall apart. As I have been recounting for the past two weeks – there are still more posts to come – the case against the website blocking proposal is very strong:
- Canada already has some of the toughest anti-piracy laws in the world and the tools to target streaming sites today
- The evidence of Canadian piracy activity is very weak and the data points to little impact on thriving digital services and television production
- Despite suggestions that the Bell coalition proposal is consistent with other countries, the absence of court orders renders it an outlier with virtually everyone
- Assurances that the block list will be targeted and narrow ring hollow with the experience elsewhere, which points to an expansion of the piracy definition, over-blocking of legitimate websites, and pressure to expand beyond IP to other forms of content leaving the CRTC as a content regulator for the Internet
- Far from providing a silver bullet to streaming piracy, the data – which often comes from conflicted companies – reveals that it is far more ineffective than its proponents claim
- Claims that the plan does not implicate net neutrality do not withstand even mild scrutiny as Canadian net neutrality rules do not distinguish “lawful content”
- Website blocking without court orders is vulnerable to challenge on human rights grounds
- The costs associated with the plan is likely to increase Internet costs for all and create a competitive advantage for incumbent ISPs
In addition to the substantive weakness of the proposal, proponents have been quick to criticize the thousands of people that have submitted interventions at the CRTC, while saying little about Bell’s astroturfing campaign in which employees were urged to submit comments to the regulator without any indication that they should disclose their corporate affiliation.
Today, Open Media has organized a day of action, with thousands more speaking out against the Bell coalition proposal led by a remarkably diverse group of companies and associations. When proponents argue that opposition to the site blocking is anti-copyright, in doing so they are now criticizing teachers (the Canadian Association of University Teachers), civil liberties groups (CCLA, BCCLA, BCFIPA, CJFE, Rocky Mountain CLA), privacy groups (Privacy and Access Council of Canada), digital rights groups (EFF, CIPPIC, Open Media), Internet providers (Iristell), technology and developer companies (Tucows), Internet groups (ISOC, Creative Commons), and many more. This principled opposition is not pro-piracy. Rather, it recognizes the fundamental Canadian values of freedom of expression and an open Internet alongside the fatal flaws of a proposal that would simply dispense with court orders as a benchmark requirement.
The CRTC consultation remains open until March 29th. Interested Canadians should take the time to learn more about the proposal, the mounting concerns, and provide their views to the Commission, their Member of Parliament, and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains.