A Federal Court ruling that orders Canada’s internet service providers to block a website offering pirated content could lead to a flood of other site-blocking cases, industry experts say.
The precedent-setting ruling against IPTV service Gold TV marks the first time that the Canadian courts have made such an order, but critics caution it may not be the last.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the courts could see a flood of similar copyright-related cases, as Gold TV is not the only streaming service offering pirated content.
Additionally, the courts could also receive requests to block content that is problematic for other reasons, beyond content infringement. That could include websites containing content such as hate speech or fake news, Mr. Geist said.
“The argument could well be, if ISPs have the capability of blocking, why not block other content? And suddenly before you know it, you’ve got an internet system in which ISPs are facing demands to block all sorts of content," Mr. Geist said.
Bell Media Inc., Rogers Media Inc. and Groupe TVA Inc. had applied to the court asking that a slew of third-party respondents – including Telus Communications Inc., TekSavvy Solutions Inc., Distributel Communications Ltd. and Videotron Ltd. – take steps to block their customers from accessing websites operated by the anonymous operators of Gold TV.
Gold TV runs unauthorized subscription services that provide customers with access to programming content to which they do not own the rights, the media companies argued in court documents.
Federal Court Justice Patrick Gleeson granted the order on Friday, giving ISPs 15 days from then to comply.
Guillaume Lavoie Ste-Marie, a lawyer at Smart & Biggar LLP who represented Bell, Rogers and Groupe TVA, said that similar orders are regularly issued by courts in other jurisdictions, including Britain, Australia and France.
“Content theft remains a critical threat to Canada’s creative sector, impacting rights holders and creators across the industry and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and thousands of lost jobs,” Mr. Lavoie Ste-Marie said in an e-mail.
Laura Tribe, executive director of OpenMedia, an organization advocating for widespread inexpensive internet access, called it problematic that the media companies opted for website blocking before trying other legal remedies. Alternative options include seizing the servers or assets of the companies committing the piracy, Ms. Tribe said.
“If we adopt these types of orders, they should be a last resort, and that doesn’t seem to be the case here,” Ms. Tribe said. “This opens the door for future abuses of the system, and an increase in website blocking over all."
In July, the media companies applied for injunctions ordering the operators of GoldTV to cease operating. Although the court granted two such injunctions, GoldTV has continued to operate and its operators have remained anonymous.
Teksavvy, which had opposed the order, said it is considering whether to launch an appeal.
Andy Kaplan-Myrth, Teksavvy’s vice-president of regulatory and carrier affairs, said the decision changes the role of internet service providers from simply carrying traffic to policing content.
“I don’t think the decision really appreciates what a significant shift that is, in what the internet is,” Mr. Kaplan-Myrth said.
It’s not the first time that the issue of website-blocking has come up in Canada. Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) denied an application by a coalition called FairPlay Canada to implement a site-blocking regime to address copyright piracy.
The coalition – comprised of Canada’s biggest communications and media companies, creative and production organizations, unions and movie theatres – had requested a regime that would identify online services engaged in copyright piracy and require ISPs to block them.
However, the CRTC said it did not have the jurisdiction to consider the proposal and said other avenues were more suitable, including a continuing review of the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act by an external panel appointed by the federal government.