Bill C-11: Let’s do SOPA again, but Canadian this time.

Even though SOPA and PIPA – the infamous internet censorship bills that were being pushed through the U.S. Senate – are, for the moment, dead, up here in the Great White North of Canada, we have our own little, nasty bill to contend with, and much like SOPA, it gives people way too much control over your media. From CBC News, here’s a taste of what Bill C-11, in its current form, would do:

– Prohibit the circumventing of digital locks, even for legal purposes — such as the education or satire uses protected by other sections of the Act. This is one of the most controversial parts of the legislation. Many experts have criticized the government for not including an exemption that would allow for the bypassing of digital locks for legitimate purposes, such as the copying of parts of digitally locked textbooks to view on another device or for use in an assignment.

– Prohibit the manufacture, importation and sale of technologies, devices and services designed primarily for the purpose of breaking digital locks. This includes technology designed to allow you to play foreign-bought DVDs on your North American player, for example.

Just those items should be enough to raise some hackles, but there are other potentially abused powers that the bill would grant, such as giving copyright holders the power to shut down your ISP access if you’re even suspected of a copyright violation. Problematic!

We here in Canada won’t have the support that the Anti-SOPA protest had online, so if you’re reading this, please, lend a hand. Sign this online petition, and if you’re a Canadian, write to your MP about why you think Bill C-11 is bad, bad, bad. And if you’re feeling really gutsy, tell them to take a look at this article, which shows that the House of Commons has done its fair share of illegal downloading!

There’s a form letter available for you to use under the cut, too (courtesy of Dear They). I’ve written my letter – now it’s your turn! More on this as it develops.

Dear [Representative],

As a citizen in your constituency, I am writing you to express my concern with Bill C-11, the “Copyright Modernization Act” sponsored by Christian Paradis. C-11 was conceived as a way of correcting obsolete copyright laws. As written, the bill is seriously flawed, and amendments suggested by the music and movie industries will turn this legislation into a tool of censorship. If implemented, C-11 would place undue pressure on the Canadian citizens, chilling innovation and suppressing free expression.

The Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) submitted a list of suggestions for C-32, the predecessor to C-11. These suggestions are completely toxic, and should not be implemented in any way. In brief:

Forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) and web hosts to limit services provided to their consumers, without any kind of judicial review. This article will force ISPs to censor free speech, in hopes of avoiding legal prosecution.

Enabling copyright holders to lodge a court order and force ISPs to block “pirate sites.” This raises several issues:

It would allow the censorship of non-offending speech, which is not permissible under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It would open new holes in Internet security, exposing Canadians to unnecessary danger when browsing the web.

The ability to lodge a court order against web sites would be heavily abused by international corporations, and suppress competition from Canadian businesses. This would chill innovation, limit venture capital, and damage the Canadian economy.

To be more specific, I have excerpted several points from the CIMA document, and critiqued them individually:

“Hosting Safe Harbour […] to limit the exception only to innocent hosting providers who do not enable infringement.”
Think of a web host like a hotel manager. They cannot be reasonably expected to run a criminal background check on every single person who stays in their hotel. If a criminal takes up residence, the manager is not “enabling” a crime. They are providing an impartial service. A web host cannot reasonably be expected to screen every single file their users upload; it would slow their ability to conduct business, cripple their income, and make them more vulnerable to foreign competitors.

“To incent service providers to cooperate in stemming piracy by requiring them to adopt and reasonably implement a policy to prevent the use of their services by repeat infringers and by conditioning the availability of service provider exceptions on this being done.”
This language demands that hosting providers take down or actively block access to files that they find suspicious, without any system of judicial review. Given the vast number of files on Canadian servers, this article would be completely impossible to enforce. Instead, web hosts would be forced to censor every single one of their customers without due process, blocking them from accessing innocent sites and unfairly limiting free speech.

“…to permit a court to make an order blocking a pirate site such as The Pirate Bay to protect the Canadian marketplace from foreign pirate sites.”
Firstly, what constitutes a “pirate site”? Many sites are dedicated to hosting files for completely innocent purposes, thus allowing people to exchange personal and professional files without relying on e-mail. However, these sites are also rife for abuse by copyright thieves. When applying for a court order, a content holder could conceivably claim that the entire site is in collusion, and demand that the site be shut down. Many innocent sites will be deemed “pirates”, and will be disabled without just cause. This poses an unfair threat to legitimate businesses, and would severely inconvenience legal customers.

Secondly, this article does not hold up under technical scrutiny. “Blocking a pirate site” would likely entail a process known as “DNS blocking”, which would reroute users from their intended destination and send them to a different page. This process is extremely unsafe for the consumer, opening them up to identity theft, phishing scams, and fraud. In the process of following the law, ISPs would be putting their consumers in harm’s way.

Finally, it is important to realize that this system will be abused. Large corporations will attempt to lodge court orders against smaller Canadian competitors, potentially forcing them out of business. Canadian businesses will be disinclined to innovate, and will contribute much less to the economy. In effect, Bill C-11 will compel Canadian businesses to limit themselves, for fear of lawsuit.

It’s worth noting that similar provisions were proposed in some recent American legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA). These bills were met with public outcry, leading to a multinational day of protest and countless calls to Congress and the White House. In effect, these bills became political poison. If proposed in Parliament, amendments like these would be greeted in much the same way, and severely damage the political reputation of those involved.

As a Canadian citizen and voter, I do not support Bill C-11 as written, much less with these proposed amendments. It will not receive my support in any capacity, and I urge you to vote against it. If you support them, I will be deeply disappointed in both you and your political party.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.



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