As It Happens

Canadian media wants to fight piracy by blocking websites. That's got some worried

A coalition of Canadian media companies and cultural organizations have banded together to stop internet piracy. They want the CRTC to block websites which promote piracy. But some are already warning of the repercussions.
A coalition of more than 25 Canadian media and cultural organizations have formed FairPlay Canada, in an attempt to get the CRTC to crack down on piracy. (FairPlay/Franc-Jeu Canada/YouTube)

Story transcript

A coalition of Canadian media companies and cultural organizations, including the CBC, have banded together to stop internet piracy. The group — called FairPlay Canada — want the CRTC to block websites which promote piracy.

It's a big ask, backed by media giants like Bell, Rogers and Cineplex and smaller groups like the Directors Guild of Canada and the Asian Television Network (ATN). Shan Chandrasekar heads up that network and is spearheading the coalition's efforts.

"This problem has been felt by an entire industry. So it's not an isolated case for just one or two companies or one or two organizations to just hang their hat on," he told As It Happens host Carol Off. "The mainstream Canadian broadcasters are tremendously affected as well because pirates have no discrimination ... when they steal, they steal everything."

Chandrasekar said his network, perhaps best known for its cricket broadcasts, has been substantially impacted by piracy. He claims this piracy has cost him millions of dollars in subscription revenue.

Shan Chandrasekar is the president and CEO of the Asian Television Network. He is one of the driving forces behind FairPlay Canada's piracy proposal. (Asian Television Network)

He is proposing forming an independent piracy review agency that would report to the CRTC about "blatant piracy sites." If found to break piracy rules, the CRTC would then order internet providers block these sites.

"We are not talking about small little guys doing something on and off here ... [it's] those piracy sites who are gaining from illicit, illegal income of stolen property."

The coalition argues that Canadian jobs are at risk because consumers can get access to TV shows, movies and music from websites that don't pay for the content that they stream to consumers.

'There are real risks involved'

Chandrasekar thinks the CRTC is the right body to deal with the problem because they give out licenses and are involved in passing broadcast legislation.

"We have great faith in the CRTC," he said. "We feel that they have the ability to solve this problem."

But Michael Geist, an online law expert and law prof at the University of Ottawa, has some serious problems with the proposal.

"There are real risks involved — risks of over-blocking, risks around freedom of expression and the absence of full judicial oversight as is found even in places that do have this," he said.

Who's backing FairPlay Canada?

  • Major telecoms: Bell, Rogers, Québecor, Cogeco
  • Cultural institutions: Toronto International Film Festival, ACTRA, Canadian Media Producers Association
  • Public broadcaster: CBC
  • Movie theatres: Cineplex, Landmark Cinemas, Les Cinémas Ciné Entreprise
  • Sports organizations: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

Geist believes Canada's anti-piracy laws are already some of the toughest in the world and that existing Canadian law could be used to address the coalition's concerns. In a recent Globe and Mail opinion piece, he pointed to data which showed Canadians fall far below global averages for illegally downloading music and ripping from YouTube.

"There's not a whole lot of evidence that piracy is a specifically major concern here in Canada. It's really been more of a business issue and in many ways we're seeing real changes, positive changes taking place there," he said.

Bell, Rogers, Quebecor, Cineplex, the CBC and other organizations have banded together to fight websites that allow internet users to illegally obtain video and audio content. (Jacques Brinon/Associated Press)

"Any time you get into a space where you're talking about trying to block access to content, to interfere with what is otherwise an open internet, there are net neutrality implications."

Chandrasekar insists the proposal doesn't touch net neutrality, a sensitive topic given the roll back of protections in the U.S.

"We're not proposing anywhere close to what happened in the United States. So there is no comparison there," he said.

"It's the public broadcaster, private sector, they've all come together. So obviously there is a problem."

With files from the Canadian Press


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