Canadian Government Moves to End Misleading P2P Demand Letters

After nearly four years of corporations abusing the notice-and-notice system in Canada, the Canadian government is moving to put this abuse to an end.

In January of 2015, Canada’s notice-and-notice system came into effect. The system was brought in by the Canadian Conservative government guided by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The notice-and-notice system itself was seen, at the time, a final compromise that would finally put to rest the copyright debate. That copyright debate had been going on since at least 2005.

The system itself is pretty straight forward. If someone has been detecting infringing material, then they can send that notice to the ISP. The ISP would, in turn, forward that notice onto the subscriber.

While it may not seem like much of a system, it actually solves a number of problems. For one, it eliminates the abusive notice-and-takedown system plaguing US citizens. Corporate rightsholders cannot simply threaten people with hundreds of thousands of dollars unless the subscriber coughs up a few thousand to make the case go away. In addition, it also respects Canadian privacy in that rightsholders cannot simply collect a person’s personal information over the notoriously flimsy evidence of an IP address.

On the other side, rightsholders can indirectly notify a subscriber that they have been detected sharing copyrighted material. Those rightsholders can basically demand that those users stop.

Ever since the system was put in place, it has been hailed as wildly successful. Most users who are asked to stop actually comply. Infringing activity dropped. Users wound up moving to legal services. Also, the system is seen as fair for the most part (the only exception being major corporate rightsholders who have demanded the more abusive notice-and-takedown system to fleece Canadians of thousands of dollars regardless if they are guilty of wrongdoing).

Unfortunately, shortly after the system was put into force, some major corporate rightsholders almost immediately began abusing the system. The letters being forwarded contained misleading information. Examples include threats of fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars and threats of disconnection. Furthermore, some demand letters wound up citing US copyright law which doesn’t even take effect in Canada.

In the ensuing years, Canadians were flooded with such notices. Rightsholders knew that any notice could be forwarded, so they began sending such misleading notices in hopes for huge payouts. From that point on, it sparked calls for reform to ban the practice or even institute a uniform system where notices must comply with a very specific set of do’s and don’ts.

Finally, a reprieve appears to be on the horizon. Canada’s current Liberal government is moving ahead with new laws that would say what the notices may and may not say. From Michael Geist:

Bill C-86 fixes the longstanding abuse of the system by prohibiting inclusion of settlement demands, adding the following to the Copyright Act:

(3) A notice of claimed infringement shall not contain:
(a) an offer to settle the claimed infringement;
(b) a request or demand, made in relation to the claimed infringement, for payment or for personal information;
(c) a reference, including by way of hyperlink, to such an offer, request or demand; and
(d) any other information that may be prescribed by regulation

The enforcement mechanism is simple: Internet providers will not be required to forward notifications that include any of the prohibited content. Any notices that include settlement offers, requests for payments or links to requests for payment fall outside the boundaries of legal notices and do not need to be forwarded as ISPs will not face any penalties for failing to forward such notices. While the new system will require careful monitoring, Canadian ISPs should comply with the new requirements and decline to forward non-compliant notices.

At minimum, this appears to solve the problem of abusive notices. While it has been a long time coming, it is no doubt relieving to Canadians that something is finally being done about it. Additionally, the law is part of the Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-86), this is pretty much as good as passed if it hasn’t already been passed.

One would hope that this is one of the last loose end in the file-sharing debate, but this may not be the case. While the push to censor the Internet in Canada was dealt a severe blow when the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) rejected the Bell Canada coalition’s proposal, major record labels are still pushing for censorship through the current copyright review process. Depending on how strongly Canada still feels about network neutrality, this could be an underlying issue that could very well pop back up from just below the surface.

Still, it’s unlikely Canadians will complain that this loophole is finally being closed. With the Canadian Internet censorship being pushed into the backrooms of parliament for now, the copyright debate has seemingly stabilized for now.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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