CBC Joins Bell, Shaw, in Calls to Censor the Internet

It seems the surprising calls for Internet censorship is growing in Canada. Another surprising source for the call is coming from the CBC.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has had a long history of being open minded about technology. As far back as 2005, the CBC released episodes of the Royal Canadian Air Farce online for free. In 2008, the release of Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister on BitTorrent got interesting because it also played a role in the Canadian network network neutrality debate when Bell opted to try and throttle the protocol for its customers.

With plenty of content readily available for streaming as well, the CBC has long established itself as an organization that is always open to the new possibilities of technology. They even capitalize on it.

Now, it seems that this forward thinking on technology appears to be shifting. In a report on the CBC, the corporation outed itself as a proponent of Internet censorship. From their admission:

Prominent members of Canada’s entertainment industry are calling for a new federal agency to locate and shut down websites that are portals for illegally obtained video and audio content.

Bell Canada, Rogers Communications Inc., Quebecor Inc., Cineplex Inc., Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and several other organizations have banded together to create FairPlay Canada.

They argue 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.

They want the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to use its power as a regulator to require Canadian internet service providers to shut down access to the pirated material.

While the comments are a bit confusing, it appears to be calls for ISPs to block the Internet. While their wording suggests outright shuttering of websites, the later paragraphs actually say the shutting down of access (ergo blocking).

The revelation also comes packed with an announcement that says that they want Canadian regulators to set up a task force to track down unwanted sites so they can get the government to do the censorship for private corporations.

Unless you are familiar with the debates in other countries, the discussion surrounding Internet censorship will seem like a new debate for Canadians. Often, the calls simplify what is going on in that unless ISPs block access to websites that infringe on copyright, then content will dry up and companies will be forced to shut down.

That refrain, of course, is a new twist on the misleading comments surrounding filesharing. Unless mass litigation goes ahead or people are disconnected from the Internet over alleged infringing activities, then the music will die out. Naturally, filesharing continues and the entertainment industry still has their multi-million dollar award shows and life moves on. In fact, some attitudes are shifting in that selling MP3s and streaming content in an authorized manner isn’t going to destroy the entertainment industry and now some would go so far as to say that it is now a major pillar in the business model. It took more then a decade to get this far, but there is shifting attitudes.

So, the first question is, what is wrong with a little bit of Internet censorship? If you are from a number of other countries, it is very easy to come up with an answer.

Well, for one, the streaming sites are often owned and operated by people who know all about domain mobility. In many countries, there are long drawn out legal fights to compel ISPs to block access to censor certain websites. BitTorrent website The Pirate Bay is one example of this. After lengthy legal battles, sometimes the rulings come down that ISPs must block the site. That’s where the project Hydra Bay comes into play. Once the blocking order is in place, the main domain name moves, rendering the block completely worthless.

Then, on the flip side, legitimate websites wind up getting targeted. Whether or not it is by mistake or intent, innocent websites wind up getting blocked. As a result, those website owners are caught off guard. Many either never planned on or anticipated any legal problems given that their site is a completely above board one. As such, traffic gets cut off, ad revenue or subscription revenue falls, the owner has no means of recourse or any way to fight it, and their dreams of owning a website becomes ruined. Proponents of censorship simply pass this off as simply collateral damage, but innocent people wind up paying the price to service multi-national corporate interests.

The debate surrounding Internet censorship did hit the US in around 2011. That’s when the PROTECT IP and SOPA acts were in full swing. Some called it “The Great Firewall of America”. The entire Internet protested and the efforts were shelved. Concerns were raised about how censorship would actually go so far as to destabilize the Internet thanks in part because some people would start using different DNS settings to protect themselves from potential censorship.

At the time, I did my own analysis of what was being proposed to determine the effectiveness of such censorship. As a result, I turned up 8 publicly available methods that would render such censorship worthless.

As such, the debate concluded to say that censoring the Internet would cause more harm than good and that free speech is essential in an open democracy.

In Britain, there is a large push to normalize Internet censorship in an effort to protect the children. The goal is to block the Internet for people in an effort to battle “inappropriate” material. These types of debates continue to this day, but back in 2014, the Internet censors of Britain were being faced with tough questions after numerous legitimate websites wound up being placed on the blocking filter. The problem with overblocking reached new heights on word that the Chaos Computer Club got censored.

At the time, the news came following a string of incidents where legitimate websites got added to the so-called “porn” filters. This includes advocacy organizations, Torrentfreak, and The Telegraph, a large British newspaper. While documenting the string of overblocked websites, the British Internet censors added ZeroPaid to the blacklist as well for reasons, one would expect, of covering up the embarrassment.

The ongoing problems with censorship continue in the country to this day.

More recently, the issue of censorship creep appeared in France. Earlier this month, we reported on the French president floating a proposal to block websites over fake news.

The flames of controversy were further fanned when Iran blocked websites in an effort to stifle protests in the country earlier this month.

So, ultimately, the history of Internet censorship shows that whenever it is introduced, more things get censored, innocent people pay the price, and it never ends well. So, in a way, it is puzzling why anyone would even contemplate, let alone execute, calls for Internet censorship.

Another angle on this story is the fact that CBC does find itself in a politically awkward situation by calling for Internet censorship. If it’s their content they are seeking to “protect”, the problems start to crop up when one asks about who paid for it. The CBC itself is a publicly funded broadcasting network paid for by tax dollars. So, it’s not as though it is just a private company that simply doesn’t understand technology. The content produced by the organization is paid for by tax dollars. So why then are they worried that their content will dry up because no one is paying for their content when the content is publicly funded in the first place?

Finally, the CBC said that it has joined FairPlay Canada, a newly minted lobbying organization, in an effort to compel the CRTC to implement Internet censorship. According to their website, the organization contains many Canadian entertainment corporations and organizations.

The calls for Internet censorship has been building up recently. Last month, we broke the story that Canadian ISP Bell Canada was calling for Canadian regulators to censor the Internet with no judicial oversight. Canadian ISP Shaw also joined the calls, but contrary to reports elsewhere, advocated for judicial oversight of the censorship.

We reached out to Canadian law professor Michael Geist for his thoughts on the latest developments, however, Geist did not return our requests for comment on the matter.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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