Policies have been vague, fail to define “egregious piracy websites”

In a recent submission to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on International Trade for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Bell Canada has argued that new, stricter copyright rules should be put into place as part of the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation.

David Fewer, Director of the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, said the suggestions can be summarized in two parts: “Number one is developing an independent agency charged with blocking a list of what they call ‘egregious piracy websites’… and number two would be the criminalization of what it describes as ‘all commercial copyright infringement.’”

Fewer referred to the submission as a whole as a “bold call.”

He also mentioned that these proposals have drawn heavy criticism from a wide range of consumer advocacy groups, who have been especially troubled by the idea of government-level restrictions on which websites Canadians can and cannot visit.

Fewer said Bell’s statements have been vague, failing to define “egregious piracy websites.” He fears that this could violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as the only websites currently banned are those with “absolutely no constitutional protection whatsoever,” such as child pornography websites, with different approaches being taken to combat other egregious forms of online speech and other mechanisms already in place to combat piracy.

However, the proposed changes aren’t solely what Fewer takes issue with, as he sees Bell’s premise of Canada being a safe haven for pirates, since “there’s certainly no basis in any kind of statistical analysis,” said Fewer.

Additionally, as Fewer discussed, there is resentment towards Bell’s strategy of targeting NAFTA as a vehicle to put its wishes into law, which is negotiated behind closed doors and is primarily concerned with international policy, rather than through Canada’s own Copyright Act, which undergoes legislative review every five years.

Fewer said of international treaties that “typically we view them as setting standard agreements for what copyright should do, without being substantive, however, that’s changed bit by bit (and is now) go-to mechanism number one for the copyright lobby, as it’s difficult to get unbalanced intellectual property rights through a legislature.”

Fewer also notes that in the last few years, Bell has become one of the “hawkiest hawks” in seeking to restrict Canadians’ Internet rights.