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Intellectual Property

Don’t confuse fighting online piracy, eroding net neutrality

Recent news that the country’s biggest media companies are creating a coalition to end net neutrality in the name of blocking piracy is conflating two issues, Toronto intellectual property litigator Kevin Fisher tells

In a draft proposal to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Committee (CRTC) obtained by Canadaland, Bell is leading a coalition of broadcasters, movie studios, and cinema operators that want to push the regulator to create the Internet Piracy Review Agency (IRPA), a not-for-profit corporation that “would maintain a list of websites it had determined were peddling pirated materials, and force all internet service providers in the country to block access to them.”

Although some commentators in the article — and in other news reports — have voiced concerns about a blacklist of egregious piracy sites eroding net neutrality, Fisher, a partner with Gardiner Roberts LLP, says the two concepts are not the same.

“I think the conflation is purposeful. There are parties who want to suggest that the erosion of net neutrality and blocking a piracy website are the same, perhaps because they want to keep content free or free-ish," he says. "It obfuscates the debate for those who don’t understand what net neutrality is.

“Some make it seem like this initiative is the boogeyman when it's not,” he adds.

“If an ISP like Bell, for example, was favouring websites that link to its products and slowing traffic to those linking to competitors, that’s an issue with net neutrality,” Fisher says. “Online piracy is something completely and utterly different. Blocking those who are distributing illegal licensed and copyrighted materials has nothing to do with net neutrality whatsoever.”

Net neutrality — essentially the idea that internet service providers must treat all internet data the same — is an important principle, which he says is currently under attack in the United States.

Fisher, who has acted in a number of cases involving rights to live sports programming, says so much of what people do happens online and there needs to be the same kind of traditional, “offline” protections in place.

“When it comes to things like broadcasting rights, libel, bullying, etc., there’s not a huge distinction between whether you do things online or offline,” he says. “Previously the internet was something that needed protections as it grew, but its growth has been exponential. 

“It's the offline world that's shrinking, not the online world.”

Piracy is a tremendous problem which hurts the livelihoods of many Canadians, he says. “I’m not sure people have turned their mind to how big an impact this infringing content can have. There are millions of jobs and billions of dollars at stake across the country."

Fisher says there is already a squeeze on the traditional broadcaster model from over-the-top providers like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, never mind illegal activity from piracy sites.

While it remains to be seen if the CRTC would create the IRPA as proposed, Fisher says his only criticism is that Bell and other media companies were late to recognize and address the importance of combating piracy.

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