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Web-block agency being considered in Canada

By | Published on Wednesday 6 December 2017


A special web-block agency could be launched in Canada with the power to instruct internet service providers to block copyright infringing websites. Various entertainment firms and internet companies are reportedly involved in discussions to launch such a body.

Web-blocking, of course, has become a preferred anti-piracy tactic for music and movie companies in those countries where local copyright law provides such blockades. Quite how it works varies from country to country, though usually a court of law ultimately issues the order for ISPs to block their customers from accessing piracy sites.

This means there is some judicial oversight and, in theory, targeted sites and/or the ISPs could argue against the blockade in court before any injunction is issued. Though piracy sites rarely defend themselves, and ISPs usually accept web-blocking as a necessary evil once the court orders start to roll in.

Though in some countries it has been proposed that a government agency rather than a court of law could issue the web-blocking orders. Which is something that was floated in Canada earlier this year, not by a music or movie company, but by the SVP Regulatory Affairs at telecommunications firm Bell.

The company’s Rob Malcolmson said during a session discussing the North American Free Trade Agreement in September: “We recommend that the government commits to stronger intellectual property enforcement by having an administrative agency dedicated to such enforcement and by prioritising enforcement against digital pirates … We would like to see measures put in place whereby all internet service providers are required to block consumer access to pirated websites”.

He went on: “In our view, it would be an independent agency that would be charged with that task. You certainly would not want the ISPs acting as censors as to what content is pirate content. But, surely, an independent third party agency could be formed, could create a blacklist of pirate sites, and then the ISPs would be required to block [them]”.

According to the website Canadaland, conversations have been ongoing of late about forming exactly the kind of independent agency Malcolmson described. It says that it’s seen a draft proposal to Canada’s media and telecommunications regulator CRTC that would result in a web-blocking agency being created. Bell is reportedly involved in those conversations, alongside various other internet and entertainment companies.

Web-blocking, of course, is often controversial when first introduced in any one country, and is likely to be more controversial if a government agency rather than a court of law has the web-blocking powers. To that end, Canadaland quotes University Of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist – a frequent commentator on copyright and anti-piracy policies – who is critical of the proposal.

He says: “This is a dramatic shift. This is a prospect of significant internet regulation being done by the CRTC and without any court oversight. The only court oversight [would come] after a site has been blocked. If you make the argument that you’re in a position to block for these purposes, it seems pretty obvious that we’re going to see other groups say that you ought to be blocking for other purposes”.