by: Rahib Ahmad 

Copyright crusaders and the media industry are fighting a battle that simply cannot be won. It has been proving more difficult for content creators to enforce their copyrights in an age marked by digital openness and the overwhelming presence of online piracy. We’ve all see these websites and done the dirty deed of downloading free movies or music. It is a sad reality for those fighting to protect their original works, as copyright infringement has become an all too familiar occurrence for creators.

The Copyright Alliance, which represents a wide array of lobby groups and Hollywood interests, have been consistent in advocating for stronger copyright protections for creators. This is an appropriate response for an industry losing billions every year because of copyright infringement. The unfortunate truth for owners of copyright material is this attempt is inevitably futile. The lobby has been largely ineffective, and with each passing day a solution to stop piracy seems all the more unlikely.

Reform advocates, like the CEO of NEWS Limited Kim Williams, would be quick to point out a solution to enforcing copyright that begins and ends with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In 2012, when speaking at the Australian International Movie Convention on the Gold Coast, Williams opined that Australia’s national broadband network needed to take more steps to combat piracy. This would include ISPs taking stronger action against unlawful activity occurring on their networks.

Yet ISPs are just that—service providers—nothing more and nothing less. In Canada, ISPs are required to send letters to customers whose IP address is believed to have been used for illegal downloading. The Copyright Modernization Act of 2012 requires ISPs to send these letters of copyright infringement as they are the trusted gatekeepers of our personal information.

Michael Geist, founder of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic was interviewed by VICE Canada on this. He explains how Canada’s “notice-and-notice system works in practice to illustrate how copyright is virtually unenforceable with this law,

“The basic idea behind [notice-and-notice] is that a rights holder identifies that someone may have infringed on their copyright. They identify the IP address and the Internet Service Provider that that IP address belongs to—at that point they don’t know who it is—and they forward on a notification”.

These notices attempt to convince the customer to pay a settlement fee for alleged copyright infringement, but there is no legal obligation to pay said settlement, or even remove the content.

The Recording Industry Association of America wants the Canadian Government to reform how ISPs deliver these copyright notices. They want the Government to reform legislation to reflect the US notice-and-takedown model, where this would be the North American standard. But this is unlikely to work in Canada, or any other country using a notice-and-notice model for this matter.

The notice-and-notice model already forces ISPs to send out these letters. There are thousands sent out daily, and the ISPs are forced to foot the costs of putting together and delivering all these letters. The notice-takedown model would inevitably lead to more resources spent on taking down content posted on the networks of the ISPs.

The lobby in the US has been relentless in pressing Canada to adopt these changes. Yet even those with basic understanding of the issue can see why Canadian ISPs are less than enthusiastic to accept the proposed changes.

The recent NAFTA negotiations represent a window of opportunity for change. However, our own service providers—who represent an immense lobby in Canada—insist carriers remain neutral. The old adage of not shooting the messenger guides Canada toward unwillingness to change its copyright laws to satisfy our neighbours down south. No one ever said governing the Internet would be easy.

With the Internet blurring the lines between producer and distributor, duplicable data that infringes on copyright is more accessible than ever. The copyright lobby, however, was actually an early advocate of having the content of the creators they represent being accessible on the Internet and other converging media spaces. The irony of the whole situation is certainly delicious.

For years the media industry has been pushing for convergence in media platforms, for both creation and circulation of their media content. And, it’s not as if piracy is a new phenomenon. BitTorrent has been available since 2001 and Napster (in different incarnations) since 1999. Thus peer-to-peer file sharing has existed alongside modern networks since the original Dot-com bubble.

Increased user agency provided by the Internet means easier access to original works within the fair-use remedy of the Copyright Act. At the same time the ability to access reproduced content is still present.

Kim Dotcom in an Internet activist and founder of the now defunct file hosting service Megaupload. Charged with criminal copyright infringement and currently in a series of resultant legal battles, Kim Dotcom commented on the inevitable losses incurred by media organizations, and the dilemma they currently face,

“If you create something, you don’t want someone else to go and profit from it; you have your right to make a living and everything. So, I respect copyright. What I don’t respect is copyright extremism. And I what I don’t respect is a business model that encourages piracy”.

A business model encouraging digital access to user content is going to have piracy as a mainstay, especially if copyright enthusiasts are the ones pushing this agenda. These associations have the most to gain from the Internet as a platform but have incurred huge losses in the digital era. Piracy is simply an externality of Internet decentralization and the convergence of media spaces. Or perhaps the Internet and copyright infringement are better seen as intimately tied with one another, like cookies and milk. The unfortunate reality is not so sweet for copyright holders.