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Canadian ministers asked to reform anti-piracy ‘notice and notice’ scheme

By | Published on Tuesday 28 April 2015


As the Canadian government sets about with its plans to extend the sound recording copyright term from 50 to 70 years, ministers in the country are being urged to overhaul a previous scheme designed to help the content industries, the so called ‘notice and notice’ system.

The anti-piracy scheme went live earlier this year. It means that internet service providers are obliged to forward warning letters from copyright owners to web-users suspected of accessing unlicensed sources of content. It is similar to the Copyright Alert System in the US, though that is a voluntary scheme set up by the ISP industry, whereas Canada’s notice and notice initiative was instigated by government.

But ministers are now being encouraged to review the scheme because of concerns over the content of the letters some rights owners provide to ISPs. These letters often encourage suspected file-sharers to pay a fine (tens or hundreds of dollars) to avoid future legal action, though if a recipient does so, it provides the rights owner with the file-sharer’s contact information, something they don’t have a statutory right to get from the ISP.

As previously reported, Rightscorp – which helps some rights owners with this kind of anti-piracy activity – was criticised early on for sending letters to Canadian consumers that set out the potential damages they could face if they were sued for copyright infringement. This is pretty common, but the firm stated the highest possible American rather than Canadian damages. And possible damages for this kind of infringement are way higher under US copyright law.

Those and other concerns about the documents being sent via ISPs to suspected file-sharers have now been outlined in a letter to Canada’s Minister Of Industry James Moore, signed by an assortment of consumer rights, copyright reform and academic groups, and referring to companies like Rightscorp by that always contentious term ‘copyright trolls’.

According to Torrentfreak, the letter reads: “As we feared, copyright trolls have in fact taken advantage of the notice and notice system to ramp up their abusive practices in Canada. We have seen notices claiming infringement of foreign law, misrepresenting the scope of damages recipients potentially face, omitting mention of defences, and failing to identify the notice as a mere allegation of infringement”.

Critics of the scheme say that the minister should introduce a number of new rules to the notice and notice initiative, including making clear in the letters that users face mere allegations of infringement (rather than implying infringement has already been proven), forcing rights owners to outline copyright exceptions, and banning the upfront settlement demands.

The signatories also propose – in the long term – new rules to discourage what the letter calls ‘abuse of copyright’. It says: “Canada requires a legislative response to the abusive and deceitful tactics of a minority of copyright owners and their agents. The emergence of a cottage industry of copyright trolls and their migration to Canada is just one example of how copyright can be abused. The next round of copyright reform must include a copyright misuse provision to curb such wrong-doing”.