Canadian ISPs won't block content: expert

作者:Matt Hartley 来源:Globe and Mail

Trying to convince the public that downloading a song is akin to stealing a chocolate bar hasn't helped the music industry curb piracy. Now it wants Internet service providers to act as content gatekeepers and to start unplugging customers suspected of swapping copyrighted music files.

According to a report released Thursday by the UK-based IFPI Group, overall revenue for the industry fell by as much as 10 per cent in 2007 despite a 40-per-cent increase in global digital music sales. The news prompted the group's chairman John Kennedy to urge ISPs to assume responsibility for the traffic on their networks.

"ISP responsibility is becoming an accepted idea," he said. "2007 was the year ISP responsibility started to become an accepted principle. 2008 must be the year it becomes a reality."

Although some Canadian ISPs such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications Inc. "shape" traffic travelling on their networks by various means — such as limiting the amount of bandwidth allotted for peer-to-peer transfers — they have stopped short of blocking traffic for those users suspected of sharing copyrighted material.

While providers in the United States such as Comcast Corp. and ISPs in other countries have begun to test the waters of content blocking, Canadian ISPs are unlikely to follow suit, analysts say. Even the Canadian wing of the recording industry isn't seeking such measures from the government's forthcoming copyright legislation.

"Canadian ISPs have been defiant," said Mark Tauschek, a senior networks and telecom research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. "They have refused to co-operate. They have said the Internet is an open network and they aren't going to police the content that goes across it ... unless there is criminality involved, they won't cough up information or necessarily block content."


Whenever the subject of Canadian ISPs interfering with Internet traffic surfaces, they tend to incur a public backlash from consumers and proponents of Net Neutrality, which states that all content must be treated equally online. Carriers are concerned they will lose customers if they bow to pressure from industry groups such as IFPI and the U.S.-based RIAA, Mr. Tauschek said.

"There's a big public outcry every time they try and eliminate Net Neutrality," he said. "Every time the ISPs try and manage what comes across the network, people find out and the freak out.

But the possibility still exists that as long as it didn't cost them customers — and helped ease the use of bandwidth on their networks — ISPs would be open to some form of content blocking, he said.

"There would almost have to be a little bit of collusion between the companies to do it all at the same time," he said. "Otherwise you would see migration from one to the other."


However, there is mounting concern in some circles that not only are Canadian ISPs warming to the idea of content blocking, but that the Canadian government could bow to international pressure to mandate they do so, according to University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist.

"When you see these kinds of comments about requiring ISPs to take responsibility for the kind of content on the networks, that's really code for widespread blocking and indeed censorship," he said. "That approach sounds much more at home in China than it does in Canada."

Technically is it still not possible for ISPs to set up roadblocks to catch pirated content without infringing on fair use and legal material, he said, which would make any law requiring ISPs to block such content of "dubious constitutionality."

"It runs so counter to our basic notions of freedom of speech and freedom of access to information," he said.

In a statement to the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Recording Industry Association said it wants to see copyright reform legislation that "puts us in step with the WIPO treaties we signed with our major trading partners all over the world." However, the group is not seeking provisions "related to content filtering or termination of repeat offenders" in the government's upcoming copyright legislation announcement.

Other international jurisdictions have taken a much different approach than Canada. French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently floated a plan to have the country's ISPs block Web access for users swapping copyrighted music and movies. In the U.S., Comcast is under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission and is accused of violating federal regulations regarding reasonable network management and AT&T is considering examining the traffic on its networks to stop illegal file sharing.