Do you want the company maintaining your connection to the Internet to keep tabs on the content you’re browsing?

A group of software vendors thinks that’s a good idea.

The Autumnal Equinox is upon us and soon even politicians must give up touring community barbeques and sitting in Muskoka chairs perched on docks in cottage country, and return to work in Ottawa.

Brian Jackson, journalist
Brian Jackson

There will be many items on the Parliamentary agenda as the tumultuous minority government  situation embarks on a new session. One of them will be the newest attempt to reform Canada’s Copyright Act with Bill C-32. It’s become a running joke that this country hasn’t updated its copyright laws since a time that pre-dates the iPod, but the serious debate over how to best craft copyright in the digital age is no laughing matter.

Amongst those arguing for changes to Bill C-32 are those who wish to put a tax on mp3 players, those who disagree with the legal protection of ‘digital locks’, and those who want Internet service providers (ISPs) to get involved in policing the Web. Count the anti-piracy group Business Software Alliance (BSA) amongst the latter of the three parties.

Bill C-32 maintains the current status quo in Canada when it comes to accused copyright infringers and ISPs. If an ISP receives a claim that one of its users has infringed upon copyright (say, by downloading a movie or a song), it merely passes on the notice to the user. There is no revealing of the users’ identity to the copyright holder, and the users’ Internet connection is not affected. It’s often referred to as a “notice and notice” system.

But the BSA would prefer instead if your ISP could sever your Internet connection as a result of receiving these complaints, or the ISP could remove offending content from its own servers. That is referred to as a “notice and takedown” system. It’s one that is used in the U.S. and could work here, says Jesse Feder, director of intellectual property at BSA.

“It has proven to be both effective and fair in dealing with infringing material that is hosted on ISPs’ systems or networks,” he says. “BSA supports voluntary arrangements between ISPs and content owners to use an ISP’s terms of service agreement to sanction repeat infringers.”

In short, this turns your ISPs’ job from messenger to copyright infringement enforcer. Providers will have to assess the validity of infringement claims from copyright owners and then decide on the appropriate action to take.

Not only does this encourage ISPs to get into the business of spying on the content being consumed by their customers, but it would also be nearly impossible to enforce in an equitable manner. While Warner Brothers will likely complain about movies being downloaded by consumers, there are other types of copyright infringement that won’t draw complaints and therefore go unpunished.

For example, if a newspaper’s article is copied and pasted verbatim to a blog, and an Internet user reads that article, is that also copyright infringement? What if the original article was behind a pay wall? Even if it is, it’s not likely ISPs will receive complaints about this sort of infringement.

ISPs acting as copyright enforcers is undesirable not only because of the privacy implications, but also because it would just be too difficult to do a good job at it.

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