Is Winter Coming for Piracy Websites in Canada?

The great Internet battle rages on

Is Winter Coming for Piracy Websites in Canada?

"Bell wants Canadians blocked from piracy websites.” This CBC headline screamed across the screen on September 27, 2017. The article explained how Bell is trying to force the federal government to block users from accessing illegal content on the Internet and increase the penalties for violators. 

The issue is complex since technology evolves much faster than the law, which puts content rights holders, like Bell, in a defensive position. As the article states: “[Bell] said the current provisions in the Copyright Act do not necessarily apply to newer forms of digital piracy.” 

One of these “newer forms of digital piracy” is an Android box that allows a user to connect to myriad piracy sites that stream content illegally. 

Copyright holders in Canada can sue infringing websites, but there is currently no way to completely block users from accessing piracy websites. What makes this battle even more difficult is the speed at which technology pivots around anti-piracy tactics like geo-blocking. Changing your geo-location with a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) is almost as easy as setting up a Netflix account and is technically illegal in Canada. 

On January 2, 2015, the Copyright Modernization Act came into force to “address the challenges and opportunities of the Internet.” Later that same year, the Office of Consumer Affairs launched the “Notice and Notice Regime” which “formalizes a voluntary practice aimed at discouraging online copyright infringement.” 

These notices are hitting inboxes with greater frequency, especially with the premier of every new season of Game of Thrones, and they use aggressive language like “under penalty of perjury... we are authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.” However, as stated on the Office of Consumer Affairs website, “The Notice and Notice regime does not impose any obligations on a subscriber who receives a notice, and it does not require the subscriber to contact the copyright owner or the intermediary.”

In May 2015, CEG TEK International, a “copyright monetization firm” said that piracy rates in Canada drastically dropped after the Notice and Notice regime began. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, noted that CEG TEK is the “leading notice sender” under the Notice and Notice regime. The threat, even without obligation, seemed to have the desired effect. 

Fast forward two years and it’s fair to ask why Bell is now pushing for the federal government to block access to sites that as Geist himself says, “raises all kinds of Charter of Rights and Freedoms issues.” 

This is where we have to speculate. Bell owns the rights to HBO content in Canada. As reported by on September 5, season 7 of Game of Thrones was pirated more than a billion times and “most of the traffic was generated by unauthorized streaming services.” This is a staggering number. Content rights holders look at those numbers and must only see total loss of revenue, which may be why Bell is pushing the federal government to take stronger action.

The debate will continue to rage on Reddit and in Ottawa, but there doesn’t seem to be any viable solution let alone a consensus on how to force Canadians to only access content through legal means when the illegal alternative is a couple of clicks away. Case in point: visit TorrentFreak and you will see the site is sponsored by several popular VPN services. 

Click here to see Bell's Notice and Notice Regime.

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