Plans are afoot in Canada to block access to websites which host pirated content. But there has been a heated response to the proposals, put forward by a coalition of the country’s media companies, because of the fears of the wider internet censorship it could lead to.
The coalition, which has named itself Fairplay and consists of more than 30 media companies, including Bell, Rogers, and CBC, submitted their proposal to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) at the end of January.
The power to block any site suspected of sharing pirated content
It made the proposal that the CRTC should set up an independent agency whose job was to identify websites which were primarily focused on disseminating pirated content. That body would then have the power to require telecommunications companies to block access to these sites.
They claim that pirated content is damaging Canada’s creative industries and costing companies, such as themselves, a lot of money in lost revenue streams.
The CRTC quickly put the idea up for comment on their website, but the response from the public has probably not gone as they would have hoped. Of the 5,000 or so people who have commented so far, most have been overwhelmingly negative, with many highlighting big concerns about where this online censorship programme would end.
One campaign group, Open Media, has been especially vocal in its criticism of the proposals and is collecting signatories for their own submission in response to the proposals. They have amassed 16,000 signatures in support of their position so far.
“The biggest thing that we’re seeing is people who are not in any way in favour of piracy, but just concerned about how grossly overreaching this proposal is,” said Laura Tribe from Open Media. “It opens the door for this to become a lobbying game around what people can and can’t see.”
Many public comments on the CRTC site echo this opinion. One from Thomas Herr of Barrie, Ontario, said,“ It starts with ‘blocking piracy’ and ends with corporations blocking information that opposes their goals and viewpoints.” Another, from Charlotte Hill of Richmond Hill Ontario, described the idea as simply, “The start of a slippery slope.”
Telecoms firms try to defend their censorship plans
However, the telecoms people behind the proposals have moved quickly to try and reassure Canadians that they have nothing to fear from the proposals.
Fairplay is being spearheaded by Canada’s Asian Television Network (ATN), and their President Shan Chandrasekar claimed that piracy had cost his company more than $4 million over the past five years.
He described the idea to block piracy sites as “an extraordinarily simple, common-sense approach” and stressed that they were targeting those who pirated their entire channels rather than people who post clips from shows on YouTube.
Chandrasekar also stressed that the proposals would include full independent oversight from the CRTC as well as Judicial oversight and a full appeals process through Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal. However, Open Media highlighted that the appeal process only kicks in once a site is blocked, which they claim is unfair.
That approach is likely to see many online businesses go bust before they can get through the appeal process. There is also the point that genuine online pirates will just go and set up another site if their existing one is blocked and the CRTC will essentially be entering into a game of cat and mouse that they ultimately cannot win.
How to evade online censorship in Canada and around the world
The proposals are still at the consultation stage at the moment, but Canadians who are genuinely concerned would be advised to register their concerns on the CRTC website as quickly as possible.
The speed with which the independent regulator has begun consulting on the idea suggests that they were already well aware of it and quite possibly even support it.
If the suggested blocking of sites does come into effect, then all will still not be lost for Canadian citizens who value their online privacy either. By using a reputable VPN, such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN, they will be able to access any blocked content simply by redirecting their online traffic through a server located outside Canada.
This will have the added bonus of helping to protect their online privacy and security more generally. As well as getting round state censorship, a VPN hides your IP Address and encrypts all of your data. This stops hackers, your ISP, and anyone seeing what you are doing online. To learn more, take a look at our guide to the Best VPN for Canada 2018.
VPNs are used in many authoritarian countries where governments try and control what their people can access. They are also popular in the USA, where ISPs have the right to sell your online data without your permission. If Canada tries to introduce online censorship of this type we can expect a significant spike in VPN usage there too.