Bell Canada Wants Piracy Crackdown, Tax on Netflix (But Not CraveTV)


The telecom’s proposals would risk starting a trade war with the U.S., a University of Ottawa professor is warning.


A Bell Canada office in Ottawa, Nov. 26, 2008.

A prominent expert in Canadian digital law is warning that Canada could find itself in a trade war with the U.S. if it applied the telecom policies that Bell Canada is advocating.

That’s just one of many problems that Michael Geist, the Canada chair in e-Commerce and Internet Law at the University of Ottawa, sees with Bell’s recent submission to a committee looking at overhauling Canada’s telecom laws.

“The running theme from Bell is a simple one: regulate others, but not us,” Geist wrote in a blog post.

He obtained Bell’s submission through an access to information request. The federal review panel hasn’t made submissions publicly available. Some of them are available on the website of the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications.

Among the issues Geist highlights is Bell’s assertion that the law “should be amended … to create a system that disables access in Canada to sites that are blatantly, structurally or overwhelmingly engaged in content theft.”

Bell is also calling for a new law that would make it a crime to “operate, advertise, supply or sell or offer to sell” an unauthorized streaming service. Such a law would mean “widespread criminalization of anyone even tangentially associated with unauthorized online video streaming,” Geist wrote.

Bell notes that its efforts to combat privacy are “actively supported by an unprecedented coalition of creators, labour groups, broadcasters, exhibitors, cultural institutions and others.”

That was the case with Bell’s FairPlay campaign, an effort Bell launched in 2017 to convince the CRTC to create a blacklist of websites engaged in piracy. That effort got the support of numerous groups including labour unions Actra and Unifor, as well as Cineplex and the CBC. The CRTC rejected the FairPlay proposal last year.

Bell Canada is also calling for streaming services to start paying for the creation of Canadian content, but not all streaming services. The CanCon rule would apply only to Canadian streaming services that have at least $300 million in streaming revenue, or foreign streaming companies with at least $1 billion in global revenue.

This would mean that international streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video, and the planned Disney streaming service, would be required to pay for CanCon, while Bell’s own CraveTV would not, Geist says.

He believes the policy would risk a trade war with the U.S. under the USMCA. While Canada has special trade exemptions for cultural industries, the U.S. would still be able to retaliate by costing Canadian companies as much extra in the U.S. as U.S. companies pay in Canada.



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