In 2018, Canada’s Federal Court approved the country’s first pirate site-blocking order.
Following a complaint from major media companies Rogers, Bell and TVA, the Court ordered several major ISPs to block access to the domains and IP-addresses of pirate IPTV service GoldTV.
Site Blocking Appeals
There was little opposition from Internet providers, except for TekSavvy, which quickly announced an appeal. According to the ISP, the blocking injunction threatens the open Internet, just to advance the interests of a few powerful media conglomerates.
Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal disagreed and last year it concluded that the blocking order can stay in place. According to the Court, site-blocking injunctions are an available option under the Copyright Act and they don’t violate freedom of speech or net neutrality.
This came as a disappointment to TekSavvy, which decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court. Last fall, the ISP petitioned Canada’s highest court to hear the case, hoping to protect the neutral role of Internet providers.
Among other things, the Supreme Court was asked to review whether the Federal Court can issue site-blocking orders in these types of copyright infringement cases. And if blocking measures are indeed permitted, how should freedom of expression be taken into account.
Supreme Court Denies Request
A few days ago, Canada’s Supreme Court denied TekSavvy’s leave to appeal. This effectively means that the Court refuses to take on the case. As a result, the battle over the legitimacy of Canadian pirate site blocking orders ends here.
The Supreme Court didn’t explain its decision but it clearly saw no reason to take a closer look at the matter. This news is welcomed by Rogers, Bell and TVA, who were represented by law fiem Smart & Biggar.
“This decision confirms once and for all that site-blocking Orders are available in Canada, and is another major victory for Canadian copyright holders in the fight against online piracy,” Smart & Biggar writes.
Andy Kaplan-Myrth, TekSavvy’s vice-president of regulatory affairs, is disappointed with the outcome. He hoped that his company and public interest groups would be given the chance to voice their concerns. However, with the denial, the blocking order stands.
‘Breaks the Open Internet’
Although TekSavvy complies with the court’s order, it still isn’t convinced that these blocking efforts are an effective anti-piracy measure.
“Site blocking like this breaks the open Internet, and does little to actually block these services. GoldTV just moved around to new addresses, forcing Bell to clumsily try to keep up. Meanwhile, netizens use alternative DNS services, VPNs, or other ISPs that aren’t blocked,” Kaplan-Myrth says.
Copyright holders disagree. The original GoldTV blocking order has been extended and is still active today. In addition, Bell and Rogers have recently applied for a dynamic IP-address blocking order to take action against pirated NHL streams.
The rightsholders believe that these flexible blocking orders are needed to fight back against pirate services, many of which actively try to evade anti-piracy actions.
More Blockades Coming?
TekSavvy sees this new request as a dangerous development. And whether it is granted or not, the Supreme Court denial means that more blocking requests are likely on the horizon.
“Now armed with GoldTV-style orders, whether they get dynamic blocking or not, what’s to stop Canada’s media giants from having courts force ever more ISPs to block ever more copyrighted content? Nothing; expect it to happen,” Kaplan-Myrth says.
Although TekSavvy has no other options to appeal in court, it will continue to engage with government and lawmakers to address the problem and protect the open Internet to the best of its abilities.