Nothing much has been said by the Trudeau government about the emerging technological issues and reforms which should govern the digital platform. So far, there has been few ministerial mandate letters that points out policies that do not directly speak about Internet copyright policies and the use of online content. Nevertheless, a few references in the Trudeau government’s election platform tell something regarding digital reforms to be made. According to the ministerial briefing documents, it can be clearly seen that, the new Minister Melanie Joly has been informed by the Canadian Heritage Officials about the top emerging digital issues which should be addressed quickly.
The officials noted three main areas as the top emerging copyright and online issues that need reforms. The documents the officials released targeted not only the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) but also the illegal online content and the websites running illegal businesses. These comments can be found in a departmental briefing for the minister regarding the copyright policy, which is part of a discussion dubbed, “what’s next”, showing various plans to be made for copyright. Each of the issues discussed can be highly controversial as it may involve placing reforms for even those sites out of Canada’s Internet space.
The Legality of Using VPNs
The coming of VPNs was welcomed by many as it offers those working in corporate environments a secure cyberspace to communicate. The document highlights the use of VPNs for copyright infringing purposes. VPNs allow Internet users to browse and do their businesses in the web with privacy. The growing number of cyber-attacks and online thievery challenges the implementation of the copyright laws for the use of VPNs. It’s true that VPNs may infringe some of these laws but their importance in safeguarding the anonymity of Internet users should not be underestimated.
The officials pointed out key areas where these technologies can be used to hide an infringing activity. Targeting VPNs allowing such activities is genuine, but the act of targeting the VPNs technology itself would generate a strong opposition from those who use VPNs for various legal activities. If some copyright reforms are to be effected, all using VPNs will be affected including those utilizing the technology for legitimate reasons.
Hybrid Illegal/Legal Offer of Online Content
The heritage officials note that some Internet sites may be offering a legal service but in one way or the other, infringes the copyright laws. For instance, the US version of Netflix offers a legal service, but the fact non-subscribers can access the content not licensed by their country raises eyebrows. Early this year, Bell Media executive said that Canadians accessing US version of Netflix are stealing. For a long time now, legal experts have maintained that the current copyright laws prohibiting subscriber access to US Netflix is have no basis and they are weak.
With the new rules barring subscribers from circumventing digital locks, it can be seen that subscribers will be subject to legal action if they use VPNs to bypass these locks. It’s alleged that VPNs allows Internet users to circumvent these digital locks. However, Netflix is required to make rights against its own clients and if subscribers don’t cause any damage, there’s no real prospect of legal action. Just like new rules of using VPNs, enforcing laws to govern foreign streaming services would be a mind boggling issue. Since millions of Canadians are already subscribed to the US Netflix version, it would be impossible to take action on individuals but rather on Netflix itself. The state already has stringent laws targeting websites that allows infringement but the purported hybrid services are a business issue for rights holder and not actually a matter of copyright reform.
Blocking of Illegal sites
Apart from the use of VPNs and accessing foreign sites, the heritage officials also included in their documents what was in the Quebec’s plans to necessitate blocking of gambling sites. Serious legal concerns regarding this issue have already been raised including who determines the legality of a site and how to force Internet providers to block foreign sites. The issue also raises inevitable constitutional concerns regarding blocking requirements that are supported by the government. Introduction of these blocking requirements perpetually expands to cover a wider amount of internet content.
There has been debate concerning the Canadian copyright laws with changes such as review of the copyright laws and copyright term extension scheduled for 2017. Adding the use of VPNs, access to Netflix, and blocking of website to the issues to be debated, may emerge that the copyright issue is complex and very controversial than many would have thought.
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