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Opinion: It’s time to stop online content theft

By Hugh Stephens —

A coalition of content creators and distributors has launched a campaign to combat the growing problem of online content theft in Canada. Labelled “FairPlay Canada”, more than 25 Canadian organizations represent the full range of players in Canada’s creative industries, including the CBC, Unifor, ACTRA, TIFF, and Vancouver’s own Fairchild Media.

This diverse coalition has come together to petition the CRTC to implement a new agency that will help identify offshore content theft websites and make recommendations on whether to block those “blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally engaged in piracy,” subject to oversight from the CRTC and the courts.

The creative industries in B.C. support over 80,000 jobs and contribute $6.7 billion to Canada’s GDP in production alone. The province is also making substantial investments in a renewed B.C. Tech Strategy, which includes expanding tax credits for film, television and interactive digital media, as well as ongoing support for the province’s world-class digital media industry.

How can B.C. ensure these investments are paying off for their artists and creators when online content theft siphons them off to offshore piracy websites?

Online piracy affects the ability of our artists and creators to continue to tell and produce Canadian stories. It drains resources that would otherwise go to the production of made-in-Canada content — not just content produced by Canadians for Canadians, but content produced for global markets.

Rather than looking to government to make up for lost revenues, why not design a system to keep the revenues at home? For Vancouver, the third-largest film production centre in North America, providing a modernized tool for independent artists and production companies to fight online piracy will mean supporting jobs in all aspects of film production from screen writing to post-production and animation.

Not only will this new tool provide B.C.’s artists and creators with an effective and expeditious means to deal with the content theft problem, it would also protect consumers, in some cases from themselves. It will deny them access to offshore content theft sites that have been proven to be active disseminators of malware, sometimes leading to outcomes like identify theft, advertising for illicit products and other by-products of the seamy side of the Internet.

Finally, this proposal should not be confused with the debate around “net neutrality”. Net neutrality requires that all legal content be treated equally by ISPs, and not slowed down or given preference because of contractual or other arrangements. Blocking offshore pirate websites is a completely different issue. Implementation of net neutrality in no way prevents the CRTC from taking steps to constrain the dissemination of unlawful online content. And make no mistake, piracy is illegal in Canada.

FairPlay Canada proposes a balanced, low-cost and effective way to address the issue of piracy, providing the means for the CRTC to exercise its legal authority in this area. This kind of modern tool for the “digital border” has proven highly effective in fighting offshore online piracy in other jurisdictions, including the UK, France, Australia, Italy, Portugal and so on. In fact, more than 40 countries have implemented or have legislation requiring implementation of site blocking.

The CRTC must act decisively to protect our B.C. creators and artists, as well as combat the growing scourge of online streaming piracy in Canada. Supporting B.C.’s creative economy means putting in place the right, modern tools to fight piracy in the digital age. It’s time for some “fair play” in Canada.

Hugh Stephens is an associate faculty member in the School of Business at Royal Roads University, Victoria. He writes a blog on international copyright issues http://www.hughstephensblog.net