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How Canada’s new copyright rules could make your Internet more expensive, censored, and policed

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You’ve no doubt heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by now: an international agreement involving 12 nations whose economic output make up 40% of the world’s GDP and 26% of the world’s trade activity. In other words, it’s kind of a big deal.

While the TPP’s international copyright provisions have already come under fire for undermining the free and open Internet, here in Canada our own evolving copyright regime could also hinder our Internet freedom and privacy.

When Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act came into effect, it was heralded as an example of sound and balanced lawmaking - one that took into account Canada’s increasingly digitized cultural and economic landscape. Also known as Bill C-11, it broadened the scope for fair dealing - meaning that it would be considered legal to use copyrighted works for “fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright.”

Sounds fair? For the most part, it is, which is why it’s so startling to see the government backtrack on some of the progress it has made. Just this past November, Industry Canada and Canadian Heritage wrapped up consultations for the parts of BIll C-11 concerning the role of ISPs in copyright enforcement. Until now, these key regulations were still not enacted and the role of ISPs in enforcement copyright law was never clear.

Now that the consultations are officially over, the verdict is in: it seems likely that the government will go ahead with new “notice and notice” rules that would make ISPs legally responsible for copyright enforcement. 

Copyright holders now have the authority to force ISPs to issue warnings to subscribers - warnings ISPs are legally obligated to send. If they fail to comply, ISPs could face up to $10,000 in charges. While being threatened with fines is nothing new, placing the legal onus on to your ISP definitely is. 

There’s also an alarming privacy threat in these recent changes. If you’re accused of violating copyright, your ISP and host will be forced to “retain a record” of your identity and online actions for 6 months - 12 if your case goes to court. In a context of mass government surveillance, it seems that copyright enforcement is now becoming another means to collect data on and to monitor the online activities of citizens.

As for VPNs - they’re also forced to comply with these impending changes. This is baffling as the new changes are detrimental to online privacy - something at the heart of VPNs. In short, asking VPNs to identify and track their users goes against their entire raison d’etre.

And, if you’re wondering if all of this sounds expensive, it is. Forcing ISPs and VPNs to participate in copyright enforcement measures will lead to hefty operational costs, meaning that you’ll inevitably pay more for your Internet service.

It also means that it’ll make an already lopsided digital market even more broken. 

If the new rules go through, independent, community, and local ISPs won’t be able to compete with the larger companies. So while the Big Three have already complied with such measures, forcing smaller companies to follow suit will put local and independent ISPs out of business.

So what does this all mean? It means we need to stay vigilant to the reality that our Internet is becoming more censored, policed, and expensive - and it’s all happening right now here in Canada.

It’s clear our government is moving in the wrong direction. Let’s steer them the right way. We need to craft our own positive vision for creators and Internet users - one that puts online expression and privacy first. Make sure your voice is heard at www.openmedia.org/crowdsource.

 

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