February 15, 2018 1 year 1 month ago

COMMENTARY: 4,700 people can be wrong

THE HEADLINE WAS a typical one: “Thousands slam Bell coalition’s website blocking proposal,” said the Globe and Mail two weeks ago.

That number (4,700-plus comments from Canadians to the CRTC over the Part I proceeding begun thanks to the FairPlay Canada coalition proposal), should not matter. At all. It will of course, especially to skittish politicians, but it shouldn’t. A large count of submissions to the CRTC on this or any topic shows people are engaged, which is a good thing, but that doesn’t make them correct.

It’s the subject and the substance the arguments which are primary. Are their arguments correct, or not? Are they worthy of consideration? This is what matters of course. Quality trumps quantity.

Now, I haven’t read each submission, but every single one of the dozens I have read, are wrong. What I see is a lengthy list of people who did not read the FairPlay proposal. So many of the submissions are plainly off topic, have confused facts, or are just blatantly false.

The FairPlay Canada Coalition proposal is not about censorship or network neutrality or freedom of expression or Bell telling everyone what to do. It is about piracy, about foreign operators making money illegally off the backs of others. It’s about theft. It’s about content makers preserving the freedom to determine how their intellectual property is sold and used – and it’s about protecting Canadians from malicious web sites which use IP they don’t own in order to attract users and then wreak havoc.

We live in a period where it’s incredibly difficult to truly communicate. Oh, there are multiple ways for us all to be in touch so we think it’s never been easier to communicate – but ease of access for messages doesn’t mean the messages you mean to say are being understood. Clear, honest communications, where people debate and stay on topic? I see less evidence of that daily.

We’ve all become skilled in obfuscation and avoidance and in changing the topic if we don’t want to debate an actual premise. That habit has become so clear, again, since the launch of FairPlay Canada.

However, let’s go past the individual submissions and dive into University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist’s recent three part blog post on the FairPlay Canada coalition – simply because his published musings are often what tend to fuel negative public reaction to the Canadian TV and telecom industry.

Professor Geist thinks FairPlay Canada (he prefers to call it the Bell Coalition) is a “radical plan”. Let’s review that. The coalition has proposed the CRTC (not them, not Bell) set up an independent, third party agency it has dubbed the Independent Piracy Review Agency, which would be driven and directed by an independent board, complete with consumer group members, with a mandate to protect both net neutrality as well as copyrighted works. It could also protect consumers as well who regularly expose themselves to risk when visiting pirate sites searching for “free” content.

I can’t understand why this would be thought of as any more radical than the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services. The CCTS is an independent body now widely lauded for enforcing CRTC codes which protect Canadian consumers from being ripped off. It’s a place for us to go to help deal with billing or other disputes without having to go to court, which is a lengthy, daunting and expensive process.

The proposed IPRA would operate similarly as an independent body which protects Canadian intellectual property owners from being ripped off by foreign players whose sole goal is to earn millions of dollars off the work of others and potentially install malware along the way. I do not understand why it’s a “radical idea” for the likes of Bell, Rogers, CMPA, ACTRA, Unifor, or any other of the corporate or other organization members or FairPlay to gain additional protection from online pirates.

“Anyone telling me there is some level of piracy which should be acceptable simply because my business earns a profit is enraging. Theft is theft.”

Professor Geist also notes in his posts there are already laws in place to deal with such things. This is 100% true. The Copyright Act itself is currently under review, too, and this may well be a matter best left to that process.

However, the laws we already have in place are rarely used because pursuing pirate sites around the world with Canadian laws is a mug’s game. Our legal system can’t properly deal with today’s threats to intellectual property. Our laws are great for dealing with real companies and individuals who infringe on copyright and will actually feel the sting of a Canadian court-ordered penalty – but not so much when it comes to pursuing operators of overseas sites deliberately hiding who they are because they are “blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy,” which is what IPRA would target. This is to say nothing of the organized crime behind some pirate sites.

In part II of professor Geist’s posts, he goes after what he feels is weak evidence about the levels of piracy in Canada. This is a classic change of subject. Piracy is a clear problem. This is something upon which everyone agrees, including professor Geist. We can debate the levels of this problem and this proceeding makes certain we will, but if I make my living from creating content (and I do), I want to stop anyone and everyone from making money off of my content or stealing it without credit. Anyone telling me there is some level of piracy which should be acceptable simply because my business earns a profit is enraging. Theft is theft.

Finally, in his third post, professor Geist changes the subject again – pointing to Canada’s thriving TV production sector and the fact Canadians are rapidly taking up usage of legit sites like Netflix and Crave to satisfy their content desires. This, he says, points to how the piracy problem is overstated.

Again, this is meaningless. The success stories are great and there has never been more TV content in production in Canada and around the world. There have never been more ways to get video content to whatever screen you like.

That doesn’t mean though when water levels in the reservoir are nice and high that you don’t plug the holes you see in the dike.

Now to be fair to professor Geist, he makes some valid points worth considering, so go read him

As well, the coalition itself is guilty of using some overheated rhetoric in trying to make its points – and I do hope there is some follow-up coming to its initial CRTC filing. There was a press release and a bit of a flurry on social media about this thrust. But that’s it, so far. There needs to be far more consumer education on this issue – and concerted efforts to try and combat more of the errors, misinformation and mixed-up messages being published across the country.

Canadians (consumers, industry folks, regulators and politicians) talk often about needing further changes in our laws and regulations and in corporate business plans in order to adapt to the new digital realities. Something like the IPRA is a reasoned and reasonable adaptation to protect Canadians from content pirates.

Even if 4,700 people (or 0.014% of the population) think otherwise.