'Slippery slope': Opposition mounts to Canadian media's plan to block piracy websites

Opposition is mounting to a coalition’s plan to block Canadians from accessing piracy websites. Many Canadians fear that the plan — backed by media companies such as Bell, Rogers and CBC — could lead to rampant internet censorship

Critics fear the plan could lead to rampant internet censorship

A coalition of more than 30 members including media companies and cultural associations wants Canada to block blatant piracy websites. (CBC)

Opposition is mounting to a media coalition's plan to block Canadians from accessing piracy websites.

Many people fear that the plan — backed by big players such as Bell, Rogers, and CBC — could lead to rampant internet censorship. 

"It starts with 'blocking piracy' and ends with corporations blocking information that opposes their goals and viewpoints," wrote Thomas Herr from Barrie, Ont., in a submission to the CRTC on the issue.

He's one of more than 5,000 Canadians who has submitted an opinion on the piracy site blocking plan to the CRTC after the broadcast regulator invited comments.

Many submissions express deep concern about the proposal.

"The start of a slippery slope," wrote Charlotte Bush from Richmond Hill, Ont.

"Abuse of the system is inevitable," said Renaud Bissonnette from Laval, Que.  

'People are scared'

The submissions started flowing in after the coalition of more than 30 members — including media companies, unions and creative industry associations — submitted their request to the CRTC on Jan. 28.

They propose that the CRTC create an independent agency to identify blatant piracy websites that internet providers would then be required to block their customers from accessing.

Many Canadians who have written to the CRTC say they fear the website-blocking plan will lead to the blocking of non-piracy sites. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The coalition, which calls itself FairPlay, says Canada needs to take action to stop the scourge of piracy sites that are threatening the country's cultural industries.

But many Canadians fear FairPlay's plan threatens the concept of a free and open internet.

"People are scared," said Laura Tribe with Vancouver-based consumer advocacy group, Open Media.

The organization has posted its own online page where Canadians can add their name to a submission Open Media will send to the CRTC opposing FairPlay's plan.

More than 16,000 people have signed on so far.

"The biggest thing that we're seeing is people who are not in any way in favour of piracy, but just concerned about how grossly overreaching this proposal is," said Tribe.

"It opens the door for this to become a lobbying game around what people can and can't see."

'A serious problem'

Shan Chandrasekar heads up the Asian Television Network (ATN), which is spearheading FairPlay's efforts. He said Canadians need to understand the seriousness of the piracy problem and shouldn't fear the collation's proposal.

"To go after blatant piracy sites is, in our opinion, an extraordinarily simple, common-sense approach," said Chandrasekar, president of ATN, Canada's largest South Asian broadcaster.

He said his company has lost close to $4 million in revenue over the past five years, and he blames the decline on lost subscribers who have turned to piracy.

When connected to a TV, these Android boxes allow people to easily stream pirated shows and movies from the internet for free. (MTLFREETV)

Chandrasekar says piracy has become a much bigger threat largely due to the recent popularity of Android boxes. When hooked up to a TV, they allow people to easily stream pirated shows and movies from the internet for free. 

Many box users are also paying underground operators $15 a month or even less for a subscription to more than 1,000 pirated live channels from around the world. 

"It's no longer a program that's being pirated on YouTube. That doesn't bother us," he said. "The entire 24/7 channels, the linear channels are now pirated."

Checks and balances?

Chandrasekar said FairPlay's proposal focuses on blocking "only extreme blatant piracy sites" and that the CRTC would ensure that all the rules are followed.

"The CRTC, in my opinion, is an extremely responsible body. They would definitely do their necessary due diligence."

He also said anyone who opposes a blocked site would be able to make their case to the Federal Court of Appeal.

"There is judicial oversight."

Laura Tribe with Open Media is concerned the opportunity to contest a blocked site comes only after the decision has been made. (Laura Tribe/Twitter)

But Open Media's Tribe argues the opportunity to contest a blocked site comes only after the decision has been made.

"What they are calling judicial oversight is actually an appeal mechanism well after the fact," she said. "We don't think that's fair."

Tribe also questions the plan's effectiveness because, in the past, when piracy sites have been shut down, new ones pop up in their place.

"It's not hard for people to build a new website," she said.

Give them what they want?

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre will also be making a submission to the CRTC opposing FairPlay's plan.

Executive director John Lawford suggested a better solution would be to offer what Canadians want: inexpensive, accessible streaming services as opposed to pricey, multi-channel cable packages.

"If that's the new business model that keeps people from pirating, then why not change your business model into that?" he said.

But Chandrasekar argues there's no model that could win over the pirates who are offering content for free or for a minimal cost.

"You cannot compete with the pirates because they have no expenditure," he said. "They are not paying licence fees, they are not paying Canadian wages."

The debate and submissions to the CRTC will likely continue as Canadians have until March 29 to comment.​

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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