Canadian Bill C-56 raises spectre of ISP 'copyright police'
A new Bill introduced in Canada last week could herald bad news down the line for Canadian downloaders and ISPs, if the experience of other countries is anything to go by. Bill C-56, which was introduced on Friday, could pave the way for Internet censorship via a particularly odious international agreement called ACTA.
Bill C-56, also known as the Combating Counterfeit Products Act, focuses on preventing counterfeit or pirated goods from crossing the Canadian border. It would give border control officials unprecedented power to search shipments for goods that contravene anti-piracy legislation. This has raised some issues among legal experts, who worry that it would enable border control officials to make judgments on trademark and intellectual issues without court oversight – to the point of destroying goods.
But the greater fear is that this could be a precursor to a ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). This agreement, which was negotiated by a range of countries between 2007-10, cracks down on copyright infringement via the Internet. It does it in a way that worries privacy and digital democracy advocates, however.
ACTA puts the onus on internet service providers (ISPs) to police the way that the Internet is used. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues that it turns them into ‘copyright police, by making them more liable for copyright infringements by their users. The EFF worries that this will encourage ISPs to penalize users for using the Internet in ways that they perceive to be inappropriate.
The worry is that ACTA, which was negotiated in private without the participation of national stakeholders, could go too far in enforcing anti-piracy measures online. It could encourage ISPs to police and punish Internet users in unforeseen ways, warns the EFF, including filtering and blocking web sites, and potentially disconnecting user services.
We have already seen ISPs in the US begin to enforce multiple-strike policies, taking penalties into their own hands. Late last month, at least five of the largest ISPs there began enforcing the Copyright Alert System (CAS), which is a mechanism designed to ‘educate’ users about their activities online. Under the scheme, ISPs operate a six-strike system, monitoring how often users at an IP address access copyright-protected content illegally online.
The CAS doesn’t explicitly call for ISPs to punish their users, but there material posted online by some of the ISPs suggests that this will happen. In one case, an ISP said that it would cut user access to the Internet until they have called a customer service representative.
The CAS has been organized by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), which is an organization made up of media rights holders in the US (that’s a lobby group, in essence).
In the UK, lawmakers are trying to force through a similar multi-strike campaign – only in this case, copyright infringements would result in user information being passed on to copyright holders so that they could take action against illicit file sharers in court.
The circle is also closing in on Canadian file sharers, as US movie distributor Voltage Pictures prepares to take ISP TekSavvy to court. It, too, wants the ISP to pass on the details of customers using IP addresses to share its material online.
It’s important to remember that ACTA isn’t yet in force. Signing the agreement isn’t enough – companies must ratify it, too, and only Japan has done that. Six nations must ratify it before it takes effect.
The EU effectively dismissed the idea of ACTA, and it seemed for a while as though the agreement had gone away. But legal experts worry that Bill C-56 could herald a Canadian ratification of the agreement. If Canada did ratify it – and if others did too – then it could pave the way for more draconian legislation aimed at ISPs and file sharers here.
What do you think? Should Canada enable ISPs to police the Internet?
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets