Internet Censorship Being Pushed In Canada, But Faces Resistance

Lobbyists are pushing for a crackdown on free speech these days. Among the demands in the copyright review process is Internet censorship.

Lobbyists are working hard to get a crackdown on civil rights in Canada. The flavour of the era is outright internet censorship and lobbyists are hoping to bring that failed policy into Canada.

Internet censorship has long been known for being an unworkable theory. Among the problems are the fact that they tend to violate basic human rights such as free speech and freedom of expression. Additionally, censorship has always been problematic from a judicial standpoint. Essentially, there is no due process and it is effectively guilt upon accusation. That, of course, runs contrary to many court systems which demand an examination of facts before reaching a decision on guilt.

Then, there is the technological problems. The Internet has a long history of circumventing censorship. Tools available today such as proxy servers, VPNs, and the TOR network render such site blocking schemes worthless. On the flip side, censorship blacklists are notoriously unreliable because of the problems of overblocking and are prone to leaks. Over and above this, once censorship takes hold, censorship creep begins taking over where just about anything could be subject to blocking.

Of course, that isn’t stopping corporate lobbyists from pushing for this failed policy. As part of the copyright review process, lobbyists are flocking to try and push for the most notorious laws imaginable. A little background, however, there are two committee’s currently examining copyright laws. The Industry committee took a balanced approach and heard from a broad range of stakeholders. Meanwhile, the Heritage committee shut out most of the views from digital rights and law witnesses. Instead, they chose to focus on just corporate lobbyists from foreign multinational corporations. From Michael Geist:

Yet more striking are the areas where the committees do not agree. The Industry committee copyright review expresses concern about copyright term extension, recommending a registration process to mitigate against the harm. In a comment that says far more about the limits of the study and its approach than the issue, the Heritage study says “no witnesses expressed outright opposition to extending of the copyright term from 50 to 70 years after death” (Bryan Adams actually did oppose term extension in his written submission to the committee). A comparison of the analysis shows one committee heard from a spectrum of perspectives and understood the complexity of the issue, the other did not (or chose to ignore it).

The same is true for website blocking and other efforts to increase liability and regulation for intermediaries and online services. The Heritage committee embraces new regulation, while the Industry committee engages in lengthy analysis that warns “no entity is entitled to safe harbour exceptions.” However, having heard evidence about the negative impact of eliminating safe harbours, the committee seeks to ensure that exceptions “reflect the rights of rights-holders and users alike.”

Geist has been following the committee hearings for some time and notes that the witness list includes a who’s who of lobbying including SOCAN and Music Canada.

Music Canada might be a familiar name for long time observers of copyright in Canada. It’s an organization headed up by long time president Graham Henderson.

Back when they were known as the “Canadian” Recording Industry Association (CRIA), they pushed for mass litigation of alleged file-sharers. The aim, of course, was to copy American style litigation and turn music fans into reverse lottery winners through litigation. That stance caused actual Canadian record labels to drop support of the organization. Artists from at least one of those labels spearheaded initiatives such as “Save the Music Fan” and the Canadian Music Creators Coalition. Those dramatic moves meant that CRIA was almost exclusively represented by members of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). All CRIA could do is make wild claims of how the music industry is dead in Canada, effectively insulting the efforts of Canadian artists at the time.

As a result, the push to bring mass litigation into Canada was stunted. Now, Canada simply has a notice-and-notice system (which the foreign backed CRIA always opposed since it prevents members from cashing in on litigation). Of course, while this was happening, countries that did have mass litigation go on saw that file-sharing lawsuits simply do not discourage alleged copyright infringement in the first place. Many file-sharers saw the mass lawsuits as lightening strikes. It can happen to them, but the odds are astronomically small – especially when they kept in mind what specifically they were downloading.

So, even if Canada bowed to the wishes of foreign multinational corporations, file-sharing would remain undeterred and the industry would remain unhappy. As such, it would’ve solved nothing positive for the country.

Having failed to push for a failed policy, CRIA then decided to try and push for the failed “three strikes law”. This occurred around the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. Like when they pushed for mass litigation of their own fans, Canadians also pushed back against these ideas. Eventually, it became a foregone conclusion that CRIA would not get that either.

Also like the file-sharing lawsuits, the countries that got a three strikes law quickly saw the policy unravel. France, the epicentre for this disastrous law, saw significant political pushback. After many setbacks, the countries prime minister finally found a political manoeuvre to pass the laws anyway. What followed was the system gradually get gummed up in the judicial process. Is this law even legal? Is the evidence of an IP address sufficient? Does the punishment fit the crime? Can we prevent false accusations? Is it an affront to basic civil rights? Can these laws be legally enforced?

It was questions like these that eventually caused the country to finally scrap the laws, realizing that nothing good can come from it.

New Zealand was another country that implemented the disastrous laws. Things began falling apart by 2013. Known as the Skynet laws, the New Zealand arm of the RIAA, RIANZ (Recording Industry Association of New Zealand) hoped that after the third strike, they could fine alleged file-sharers millions as well as get them disconnected from the Internet. Fortunately, New Zealand courts saw the law for what it was and issued judgments against file-sharers for a few hundred New Zealand dollars. This resulted in headlines saying RIANZ Spends $250,000 on Three Strikes Law to Reap $616.57. While RIANZ lobbied for much larger fines to turn this whole system into a massive cash cow, it appears that they never got what they wanted. So, the laws eventually went unenforced for the most part after.

Having pushed for two failed policies and unable to get neither in Canada, CRIA opted to re-brand themselves in 2011 as Music Canada. The idea, allegedly, was that the organization was going to shift away from lobbying the government on certain copyright issues and focus on a much more honourable endeavour of showcasing and promoting Canadian artists. That, of course, suggested that they are actually going to do something better with their time and resources. Unfortunately, but 2015, the old CRIA attitudes began reasserting themselves as Music Canada announced their intent on lobbying again.

That alone suggests that they wanted simply to offload all that baggage of the past. Maybe after about 4 years, people will forget all the dirty tactics that were pulled in the past – especially thanks to the new name. Of course, people like us with long memories don’t tend to forget these things.

In a rare moment of realization, Music Canada admitted what everyone else knew all along – viable legal alternatives are the real threats to alleged piracy, not enforcement. In 2018, Henderson admitted that these legal alternatives have cased piracy to “drift away“. Unfortunately, the old CRIA attitudes continue to reassert themselves. Last year, Music Canada also pushed for mass Internet censorship in Canada.

Fortunately, for Canada, this cycle seems to be following a very familiar pattern (at least, so far). First of all, other countries are trying to experiment in mass Internet censorship. The UK, for instance, has been pushing for Internet censorship to block pornographic material. This controversy goes back at least as far back as 2014 when it was dubbed “The Great Firewall of Britain“. At the time, overblocking was already becoming a problem after the Chaos Computing Club was blocked even though they didn’t carry pornographic material. In the same year, UK ISPs faced controversy after they began hijacking users browsing sessions to push for the Internet filters.

By 2018, the security community blasted the proposal for being a major security threat. The BBFC, the governmental organization responsible for managing the system, admitted that VPN services would render the system worthless. Now, just last week, after many delays, word came out that the system would face yet another 6 month delay thanks to a bureaucratic screw up on top of it all.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, it seems that there is significant pushback from the censorship proposal. As Geist pointed out, the Industry committee rightfully differs on the subject of so-called “site blocking” (re: censorship). While the heritage committee, under the seeming direction of lobbying organization, is pushing for censorship in their report, the industry committee is pushing back against these ideas after the committee rejected the report. This represents the second roadblock for Internet censorship after the CRTC came to a logical conclusion and rejected censorship last year.

Knowing corporate interests (to be fair, not just as represented by Music Canada), this is not the end of the road. They’ll likely be pushing politicians to insert Internet censorship into copyright law reforms anyway. Whether it’s through some other avenue to inject the unwarranted and unwanted laws or circumventing democracy by trying to find an international in, they’ll continue to push for this regardless of what evidence or reality says.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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