Over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have received notifications from movie and television interests threatening high-priced lawsuits unless they agreed to pay settlement fees. Moreover, a recent strategy led by the law firm Aird & Berlis has resulted in hundreds of actual legal filings against individuals, using a reverse class action strategy described as a “legal machine”. Yet despite the proliferation of lawsuits and demand letters, the head of the movie industry in Canada recently told the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that lawsuits against individuals were not part of their legal strategy.
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Movie Industry Denies Lawsuit Strategy Despite Proliferation of Legal Actions and Settlement Demands Against Thousands of Canadians
Site Blocking, The Sequel: After Telling Courts They Can Issue De-Indexing or Blocking Orders, Movie Industry Calls for More in Copyright Act
Representatives of the motion picture association appeared before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology this week as part of the copyright review and called on the government to ensure the law permits site blocking and search result de-indexing rules to address piracy concerns. The representatives, who acknowledged under questioning from Liberal MP David Graham that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Motion Picture Association Canada (MPAC) are the same organization, also argued to increased liability for Internet intermediaries.
U.S. Lobby Groups Take Aim At Canadian Copyright Law in NAFTA Comments: No Balance, No Fair Use, & No Cultural Exception
The U.S. just completed its consultation on negotiating objectives in the upcoming NAFTA re-negotiations (the Canadian consultation is open until July 18, 2017). There are well over a thousand comments, but a review of the lobby groups who pay attention to copyright reveals that they hope to use the talks to make significant changes to Canadian copyright law. This was expected – I touched on the trade dimension of domestic reforms in my recent Policy Options piece on the 2017 copyright review – but the extent to which many groups want to toss aside foundational elements of Canadian copyright law may still surprise.
For example, the Copyright Alliance, which represents a wide array of lobby group associations and Hollywood type interests, rejects the inclusion of balance as an objective in copyright law. It notes that the TPP included a balance provision and warns against something similar in NAFTA. Ironically, the TPP provision was non-enforceable, stating only:
Copyright For Sale: How the Sony Documents Illustrate the Link Between the MPAA and Political Donations
The linkage between political funding and the major copyright lobby groups is not a new issue as for years there have been stories about how groups like the MPAA and RIAA fund politicians that advance their interests. Sites like OpenSecrets disclose the spending, though it gets complicated given how much money comes from individual companies or corporate executives. While those sites tell the story of how much, the recent leak of Sony emails reveal the how. They demonstrate the coordinated efforts by the MPAA to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for certain politicians with direct efforts from MPAA CEO Christopher Dodd to solicit donations from among the Hollywood studios. This will not be news to those who have been following Lawrence Lessig in recent years, but the matter-of-fact tone of these emails is still revealing.
An additional issue has begun to attract increasing attention as the same lobby groups seeking copyright reforms have also put dismantling Canadian content regulations on the table. The IIPA, the lead lobby group for the movie, music, and software industries, told the U.S. government:
IIPA strongly believes that the TPP market access chapters must be comprehensive in scope, strictly avoiding any sectoral carve outs that preclude the application of free trade disciplines. We note that several market access barriers cited by USTR in its 2012 National Trade Estimate report on Canada involve, for example, content quota requirements for television, radio, cable television, direct-to-home broadcast services, specialty television, and satellite radio services. It should be possible to address such barriers to trade in the TPP, and thus augment consumers’ access to diverse content, while promoting local cultural expressions.
Many concerned with Canadian culture have reacted with alarm as the U.S. government has focused on potential changes to television and radio content requirements, classification systems for movies, and online video.