ISP blocking has become a prime measure for the entertainment industry to target pirate sites on the Internet.
In recent years sites have been blocked throughout Europe, in Asia, and even Down Under.
Last month, a coalition of Canadian companies called on the local telecom regulator CRTC to establish a local pirate site blocking program, which would be the first of its kind in North America.
The Canadian deal is backed by both copyright holders and major players in the Telco industry, such as Bell and Rogers, which also have media companies of their own. Instead of court-ordered blockades, they call for a mutually agreed deal where ISPs will block pirate sites.
The plan has triggered a fair amount of opposition. Tens of thousands of people have protested against the proposal and several experts are warning against the negative consequences it may have.
One of the most vocal opponents is University of Ottawa law professor Micheal Geist. In a series of articles, processor Geist highlighted several problems, including potential overblocking.
The Fairplay Canada coalition downplays overblocking, according to Geist. They say the measures will only affect sites that are blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally engaged in piracy, which appears to be a high standard.
However, the same coalition uses a report from MUSO as its primary evidence. This report draws on a list of 23,000 pirate sites, which may not all be blatant enough to meet the blocking standard.
For example, professor Geist notes that it includes a site dedicated to user-generated subtitles as well as sites that offer stream ripping tools which can be used for legal purposes.
“Stream ripping is a concern for the music industry, but these technologies (which are also found in readily available software programs from a local BestBuy) also have considerable non-infringing uses, such as for downloading Creative Commons licensed videos also found on video sites,” Geist writes.
If the coalition tried to have all these sites blocked the scope would be much larger than currently portrayed. Conversely, if only a few of the sites would be blocked, then the evidence that was used to put these blocks in place would have been exaggerated.
“In other words, either the scope of block list coverage is far broader than the coalition admits or its piracy evidence is inflated by including sites that do not meet its piracy standard,” Geist notes.
Perhaps most concerning is the slippery slope that the blocking efforts can turn into. Professor Geist fears that after the standard piracy sites are dealt with, related targets may be next.
This includes VPN services. While this may sound far-fetched to some, several members of the coalition, such as Bell and Rogers, have already criticized VPNs in the past since these allow people to watch geo-blocked content.
“Once the list of piracy sites (whatever the standard) is addressed, it is very likely that the Bell coalition will turn its attention to other sites and services such as virtual private networks (VPNs).
“This is not mere speculation. Rather, it is taking Bell and its allies at their word on how they believe certain services and sites constitute theft,” Geist adds.
The issue may even be more relevant in this case, since the same VPNs can also be used to circumvent pirate sites blockades.
“Further, since the response to site blocking from some Internet users will surely involve increased use of VPNs to evade the blocks, the attempt to characterize VPNs as services engaged in piracy will only increase,” Geist adds.
Potential overblocking is just one of the many issues with the current proposal, according to the law professor. Geist previously highlighted that current copyright law already provides sufficient remedies to deal with piracy and that piracy isn’t that much of a problem in Canada in the first place.
The CRTC has yet to issue its review of the proposal but now that the cat is out of the bag, rightsholders and ISPs are likely to keep pushing for blockades, one way or the other.