Ineffective laws that lag behind international standards have made Canada a hot spot for online piracy and copyright infringement, according to a group of rights holders that has again placed this country on its global watch list.
In an annual report submitted to the U.S. Trade Representative, the International Intellectual Property Alliance — a network that represents American copyright owners in publishing, entertainment, film, television and music recording — calls on Canada to do more in the fight against online piracy.
The report says progress has been made on taking down major Canadian-based hosts of illegitimate content in the past year following recent changes to the Copyright Act. But it calls for action to curb the theft of intellectual property that has earned Canada its distinction as a safe haven for illegal file sharing and hosting.
In a bid to bring Canada's copyright laws up to speed with the evolving online world, the Copyright Modernization Act made amendments to the Copyright Act in 2012 to boost the "protection of copyright works … including through the recognition of technological protection measures."
A section of the act brought into force in 2015 introduced a protective measure known as "notice and notice," which helps copyright owners address suspected online violations by sending warnings to individuals via their internet service providers.
But, the alliance says the provision doesn't go far enough in correcting the illegal behaviour of some Canadians, because the absence of legal repercussions often results in ignored notices or re-uploaded content.
The report places Canada on a list of offending nations alongside Colombia, Indonesia, Thailand and Switzerland, and makes recommendations to Canadian lawmakers ahead of Copyright Modernization Act's mandated review in November.
The IIPA calls for strengthened legal incentives for internet service providers to co-operate with rights holders, and for authorities to make online copyright enforcement a priority.
Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who is tasked with the "conservation, exportation and importation of cultural property," told CBC News the government is open to listening to different perspectives on copyright laws.
"There will be a review of the Copyright Act done by the Parliament committee on heritage this year, so I look forward to hearing all points of view and also looking forward to what will be the recommendations from the committee."
Rights of consumers and owners
Teresa Scassa, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, said it's important to remember that groups like the IIPA represent one side of the debate on copyright laws in Canada — a debate that sees owner interests square off with consumer rights.
"When you get arguments about high levels of piracy, I'd be interested to know how much of that is simply a matter of contested territory," she told CBC News.
While the Copyright Modernization Act introduced tools to combat infringements while beefing up intellectual property protection, it also eased restrictions on the fair use of copyrighted digital content deemed to be of public interest, in an attempt to strike a balance between interests.
Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, said Canadian consumers are getting the raw end of the deal when it comes to accessing protected content.
"We're paying the highest prices in the world and getting the least for it," he said, adding that enforcement measures like Canada's notice system are a "form of blackmail" that exploit the fears of consumers.
But Diane Finley, the Conservative critic for innovation, science and economic development, said the model helps consumers navigate copyright laws.
"The previous Conservative government created the system so that consumers that unknowingly violated copyright law could be notified instead of immediately punished for their mistake," Finley said in an email.
The NDP's critic, Brian Masse, told CBC News that while there isn't enough domestic data available to take sides yet, he wouldn't be surprised if current laws are behind the curve when on copyright protection.
"Canadians like to think of themselves as world leaders … but at the same time, when it comes down to actual legislation, we're often not," he said.