ISPs await new version of copyright act

Internet service providers are watching Ottawa carefully after a report that the government is about to re-introduce copyright legislation virtually unchanged from the 2008 version.

ISPs want to see if the provisions affecting providers, which they are largely willing to go along with, stay the same or whether the law will be toughened.

Their antenna were raised after University of Ottawa Internet law professor Michael Geist said sources have told him the earlier bill, called C-61, will be the heart of the legislation that will be brought to Parliament next month.

That bill include the so-called “notice and notice” warning provision the industry has voluntarily been following for some time, under which content creators alert ISPs about suspected copyright violators, who then pass on the notice to subscribers. The hope is that with a warning the customers will stop alleged illegal acts.

If that provision stays the same it’s “good news, bad news” for providers, Geist said in an interview Wednesday.

On the one hand “notice and notice” has been used for some time by ISPs and therefore gives them some certainty about how to deal with the law. It’s a balanced approach, he said. By comparison, some content creators are demanding “notice and takedown” rights, similar to those in U.S. law, in which a copyright holder can compel an ISP to take down an offending subscriber’s Web site or connection.

However, he believes hope is gone that Canada will adopt a so-called flexible fair-dealing approach to copyright by allowing digital copying and transfer over the Internet of videos and music for personal use. It is also likely the government will follow the U.S. and enforce the right of content creators to put digital locks on videos, music, books and other materials, he said.

This will hurt ISPs by limiting their ability to bring new, innovative services to market, Geist said.

The Conservative government withdrew C-61 and held a series of public consultations last year after a number of consumer groups protested that the proposed act favoured the film and recording industry. However, recently the U.S. has put pressure on Canada to toughen its copyright law. On Wednesday the Congressional antipiracy caucus, made up of 70 members of Congress, said five countries including Canada are causing “serious problems” for American content creators.

 

“What is stunning is that piracy isn’t just emanating from countries like Russia and China, but also from Canada and Mexico, our largest trading partners,” complained Senator Orin Hatch of Utah.  “Now is the time for policymakers to come together to tackle this global threat that cripples economic growth and stifles the innovation that has made our nation great.”

Craig McTaggart, director of broadband policy for telco Telus Corp., agreed that in its original form C-61 was “a pretty good balance” for ISPs. Most importantly, ISPs wouldn’t have to have acted against subscribers based on allegations from content creators, he said.

“What’s important is that our customers’ the right to make common, legitimate use of the media they’ve paid for is recognized,” he added. “Whether that’s done by way of a broad fair dealing exemption or meaningful personal use rights for individuals, the important thing is that our customers be able to do things they are already doing – time-shifting TV, format-shifting of music and movies, platform-shifting.” None of that, he said, is piracy.

Under the voluntary notice-and-notice system, rights holders used to send Telus messages saying some “scary things” to be passed on to alleged violators, McTaggart said. More recently the threats have been toned down, he said.

The rights holder uses a third party to monitor traffic and capture IP addresses engaging in suspicious behaviour. ISPs then match the address and the time of the alleged violation to track down the subscriber.

“Typically it’s a parent who finds out their child has been file sharing on the Internet, and typically that stops the behavior,” McTaggart said. ISPs don’t do anything more unless there’s a court order.

While Geist believes the new copyright changes will be introduced soon, the head of a group of ISPs wonders what the rush is.

Tom Copeland of the Canadian Association of Internet providers (CAIP), said Wednesday the act shouldn’t come out until Industry Canada has finished its consultations on creating a national digital strategy.

The two-month process encouraging Canadians to make online submissions was announced May 10. “It would be hard to imagine they [the government] would implement a new bill before that,” Copeland said. “When they’re talking about creation of digital content, copyright has to be part of that.”

However, the government has said copyright reform is not part of the digital economy strategy.

 



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