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Guilty by accusation: Overzealous copyright lawyers target Canadians

The Internet is ablaze with fury at the news that a content company – Voltage Pictures – is requesting the private information of thousands of Canadian Internet users, who it claims violated its copyright. Crackdowns on alleged infringement are sweeping the nation, as ISPs are being pressured to give private companies the personal information of their accused customers. This “guilty by accusation” approach to copyright enforcement is bad for free expression, and it adds new costs for Internet service providers, which will certainly be reflected on our monthly bills. Do you want to pay for a copyright witch hunt? As the definition of infringement expands, and everyday uses of the Internet increasingly include sharing images, videos, and more, anyone could be considered a potential infringer. If you or someone using your Internet connection—even someone accessing your wireless connection without your knowledge—clicked on a link to something covered by copyright, should your information be passed along? What if the accusation is wrong?

These are all questions the government clearly should have answered before passing copyright bill C-11. When C-11 was introduced, we sounded the alarm and you spoke out in droves – and together we turned government heads, and defeated the worst of what the Big Media lobbyists wanted: the power to block websites and terminate your Internet access. But clearly the government’s consideration of C-11’s impact didn’t go far enough.

It appears that independent ISPs like Teksavvy are doing their best to safeguard the privacy of their customers whilst abiding by the law, and to make sure that its subscribers are at least told that content companies are after their information. Yet we have no such assurances from Canada's Big Telecom players.

This is another reason citizens and policy-makers should support independent, customer-centric telecom options in Canada—they tend to treat us like human beings, not numbers. And greater diversity of carriers means that decisions about Canadians’ personal information aren’t in solely the hands of a few large players. If you haven’t already, please consider making the switch to an independent provider today using this online tool from

We know that Canadians care about their privacy – consider the 145,000+ who forced the government to shelve their online spying plan (for now). Maybe it’s time for legislators to, at the very least, instruct telecom companies to only turn over Canadians’ private information if they receive a court order.

If C-11 was meant to discourage these attacks on citizens, as was claimed by MPs behind the bill, then the government should clearly articulate what a content company can and cannot do in this regard, and establish some kind of penalty for those who cross the line. Since Canada is one of the few countries that adds a monetary penalty for non-commercial infringement, then why not just remove that part of C-11 entirely? Do we really want to give giant media conglomerates an extra financial incentive to seek our private information?

This looks like a case of a content company failing to make a profit, and trying to create a business model out of threatening and suing citizens. Unless rewarding failure and propping up broken business models is this government’s new mandate, they should take action to safeguard our privacy and our digital economy. We should be creating copyright for Canadians and innovators, not copyright for lawyers.

These initiatives mean greater costs for all Internet users—it'll cost us in privacy and in access to information, and it'll cost us money. And things may be about to get worse: Canada’s government has now joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and leaked drafts of this agreement suggest that it would impose much larger fines for accused infringers, and encourage ISPs to police our online experience. It will take us backwards at a time when Canadians are already feeling the pinch from overzealous media giants.

That's why over 120,000 people have spoken out about the TPP's new Internet restrictions at It’s why our government should make a firm commitment to stand with Canadians as pro-privacy representatives. And it’s why they should say no to making matters worse by trading away our digital rights through foreign tribunals.

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