#CyberFLASH: Canadians could turn to VPNs to watch NFL games on Twitter

android_mainsm-620x250While Netflix is reportedly following through on its VPN crackdown by blocking Canadians wanting to see content normally only available south of the border, Twitter’s NFL live-streaming may prove the next fertile ground for virtual border hoppers.

The NFL announced that it will partner with Twitter to live-stream 10 Thursday night games for free online. The broadcasts will not be available in Canada due to licencing issues with Rogers, which holds the broadcast rights in the country.

If you’re a Canadian football fan looking for a way to skirt the digital border, however, using a virtual private network (VPN) might be the answer. A VPN allows users to pretend their PC is in another part of the world by re-routing their Internet connection. It also encrypts data and hides your IP address from potential hackers.

“If there are no unpredictable actions taken against VPNs… Canadians will be able to sign up for our services and get ready for the NFL streaming,” explains Marty Kamden, CMO of NordVPN. “Using VPNs is legal and actually recommended to each Internet user, as the primary function of VPNs is to protect online activity from threats, hackers or snooping.”

That being said, using a VPN to access blocked content can be considered an infringement of copyright laws. Some services that offer geo-blocked content are beginning to crack down on the use of VPNs, including Netflix. The popular streaming site followed through on their threat, which blocks even well-intentioned users who might have a VPN solely for privacy reasons. While the VPN ban prompted a petition signed by 40,000 people, Netflix said their new policy has not impacted their subscription numbers.

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#CyberFLASH: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says blocking region-switching proxy services is ‘the maturation of Internet TV’

hi-netflixrtxyw4i-8colDuring a recent roundtable discussion MobileSyrup attended at Netflix’s head office in Los Gatos, California, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings finally commented on the company’s controversial move to begin blocking the use of proxy VPN/DNS services.

“We have the obligation to respect the content rights that we buy; it’s just a simple fairness thing. Someone else has paid for the rights in Germany, so we should respect that, just as we would expect the same in return,” said Hastings.

Since Netflix’s 2011 release in Canada, Canadians, as well as people from other regions of the world, have been using proxy DNS/VPN services to access additional Netflix libraries, most notably the wealth of content available in the U.S. It’s worth noting, however, that this is a direct violation of Netflix’s terms of service.

“The basic thing is if we license a movie here [the U.S.], and then another network licenses it in Germany, then we don’t don’t have the rights to display it in Germany. That’s why we have to enforce those VPN rules, just like Amazon Prime Instant Video and others do as well,” said Hastings. “Think of it as the maturation of Internet TV”

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#CyberFLASH: Why Netflix may come under fire from Ottawa: Geist

529957915_216017972-e1401991064713The Trudeau government has thus far said very little about its plans for future digital and copyright policy reform. There were few references in its election platform and the ministerial mandate letters that identify immediate policy priorities did not speak to the issue.

According to ministerial briefing documents recently released by the government, Canadian Heritage officials have told new minister Mélanie Joly that emerging issues may include targeting the use of virtual private networks and website blocking. The comments can be found in a departmental briefing for Joly on copyright policy, which includes a discussion titled “what’s next” for copyright.

The document identifies three issues, each likely to be exceptionally controversial. The first involves the use of virtual private networks (VPN) for copyright infringing purposes. VPNs are widely used in corporate environments to ensure secure communications and by a growing number of individual Internet users seeking technological tools to better safeguard their online privacy.

The same technologies can be used to hide infringing activity, however. Those activities raise genuine issues, though the prospect of targeting the technology itself would quickly generate robust opposition from those who rely on VPNs for a myriad of legitimate purposes.

Officials point to “hybrid legal/illegal offer of online content” as another emerging issue. The reference to hybrid offering may be a reference to those accessing U.S. Netflix, which is a legal service, but raises concerns when a non-U.S. subscriber accesses content that is not licensed in their country.

The popularity of accessing U.S. Netflix attracted considerable attention earlier this year when a Bell Media executive said that Canadians who access the U.S. version of Netflix are stealing.

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#CyberFLASH: What Canadian Heritage Officials Didn’t Tell Minister Mélanie Joly About Copyright

keyboardLast week, Canadian Heritage posted the Ministerial briefing book that officials used to bring new minister Mélanie Joly up-to-speed on the issues in her portfolio. The proactive release is a great step toward further transparency. While the mandate letter from the Prime Minister provides insight into government policy priorities, the briefing book sheds light on what department officials view as priorities and how they frame key issues.

The copyright presentation is particularly revealing since it presents Minister Joly with a version of Canadian copyright lacking in balance in which “exceptions are always subject to certain conditions” but references to similar limitations on rights themselves are hard to find. Department officials present a frightening vision of emerging copyright issues, pointing to mandated Internet provider blocking, targeting copyright infringement that occurs on virtual private networks, and “hybrid” legal/illegal services that may be a reference to Canadians accessing U.S. Netflix. The suggestion that Canadian Heritage officials have identified site blocking or legal prohibitions on VPN or U.S. Netflix usage as emerging copyright issues should set off alarm bells well in advance of the 2017 copyright reform process.

So what didn’t officials tell Minister Joly? The reality is that the Minister would benefit from a second presentation that discusses issues such as:

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#CyberFLASH: Why the TPP is a Canadian Digital Policy Failure

23065912105_d47e1e8ba5_k-780x350The official release of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a global trade agreement between 12 countries including Canada, the United States, and Japan, has sparked a heated public debate over the merits of the deal. Leading the opposition is Research in Motion founder Jim Balsillie, who has described the TPP as one of Canada’s worst-ever policy moves that could cost the country billions of dollars.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that as Canadians assess the 6,000 page agreement, the implications for digital policies such as copyright and privacy should command considerable attention. On those fronts, the agreement appears to be a major failure. Canadian negotiators adopted a defensive strategy by seeking to maintain existing national laws and doing little to extend Canadian policies to other countries. The result is a deal that the U.S. has rightly promoted as “Made in America.” [a video of my recent talk on this issue can be found here].

In fact, even the attempts to preserve Canadian law were unsuccessful. The TPP will require several important changes to domestic copyright rules including an extension in the term of copyright that will keep works out of the public domain for an additional 20 years. New Zealand, which faces a similar requirement, has estimated that the extension alone will cost its economy NZ$55 million per year. The Canadian cost is undoubtedly far higher.

In addition to term extension, Canada is required to add new criminal provisions to its digital lock rules and to provide the U.S. with confidential reports every six months on efforts to stop the entry of counterfeit products into the country.

While these are all changes that reflect U.S. standards, there was little effort to promote some of Canada’s more innovative copyright policies in the agreement. The U.S. has allowed Canada to keep its “notice-and-notice” policy for Internet providers, but on the condition that no other TPP country may adopt it. Meanwhile, Canadian policies that promote user generated content, limit statutory damages, or establish consumer exceptions are all missing from TPP.

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#CyberFLASH: Privacy, telecom competition among Trudeau’s tech policy priorities

geist.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxDigital policies may not have played a significant role in the just-concluded national election, but the arrival of a majority Liberal government will leave many expecting “real change” on the digital front in the years ahead.

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau is likely to focus on key economic promises from his platform once Parliament resumes. However, there will be several digital issues that should command attention during his first 12 months in office.

Bill C-51

The Liberals voted for the controversial anti-terror law, but the party promised changes to it if elected.

In particular, it pledged to establish an all-party review mechanism similar to those found in many other countries that will bring Members of Parliament into the oversight process. Moreover, the Liberals promised to increase the powers of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and add a mandatory three-year review provision to the law, suggesting that the current government may both start and end its term in office with reviews of the anti-terror legislation.

While Bill C-51 has been Canada’s hot button privacy issue since its introduction last January, the new government will also have a chance to quickly put its stamp on other privacy issues. This could include issuing a strong endorsement of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Spencer decision on the reasonable expectation of privacy in Internet subscriber information by committing to stopping warrantless access to such data.

The Trans Pacific Partnership

The TPP emerged as an election issue late in the campaign after the 12 member countries reached an agreement-in-principle on a deal that could have a major impact on the Canadian economy. The TPP involves far more than just the elimination of tariff barriers, since it requires reforms such as an extension in the term of copyright, new Internet takedown requirements, and restrictions on domestic privacy protections.

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#CyberFLASH: TPP Threatens Canadians With Law Suits

a-woman-uses-her-computer-keyboard-to-type-while-surfing-the-internet-in-north-vCopyright activists say Canadians could face lawsuits, fines or worse for ripping the latest Justin Bieber CD or uploading an animated GIF of Jose Bautista’s bat-flip under a new trade deal, and they’re calling on the newly elected Justin Trudeau to act.

A major part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal finalized Oct. 5 involves harmonizing copyright laws in the 12 Pacific Rim countries — including Canada, the United States, Australia and Japan — that are signatories to the deal.

While the final text of the international trade agreement has yet to be published, the website Wikileaks released what it claims is the intellectual property chapter of the TPP on Oct. 9.

“Canadians don’t realize that the way that they use the Internet every day is going to change dramatically,” said Meghan Sali, a spokeswoman for the digital-rights advocacy group OpenMedia.

On the campaign trail, the prime minister-designate said he supports free trade and will thoroughly examine the TPP deal, while criticizing the secrecy under which the pact was negotiated.

Consumer organizations and outside groups were shut out of the negotiations, and the governments involved have released little information on the back and forth over what has been called the largest trade deal in history.

“We’re heartened to see him recognize that this process has been not just opaque but inaccessible and undemocratic,” said Sali.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an American advocacy group, has said the TPP threatens to override Canada’s copyright regime and promotes the interests of copyright owners and corporations at the expense of the public.

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#CyberFLASH: How the budget bill quietly reshapes privacy law: Geist

reedle.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxA budget implementation bill is an unlikely — and many would say inappropriate — place to make major changes to Canadian privacy law. Yet Bill C-59, the government’s 158-page bill that is set to sweep through the House of Commons, does just that.

The omnibus budget bill touches on a wide range of issues, including copyright term extension, and retroactive reforms to access to information laws. But there are also privacy amendments that have received little attention.

In fact, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was not even granted the opportunity to appear before the committee that “studied” the bill, meaning that privacy was not discussed nor analyzed (the committee devoted only two sessions to external witnesses for study, meaning most issues were glossed over).

The bill raises at least three privacy-related concerns. First, the retroactive reforms to access to information, which are designed to backdate the application of privacy and access to information laws to data from the long-gun registry, has implications for the privacy rights of Canadians whose data is still contained in the registry. By backdating the law, the government is effectively removing the privacy protections associated with that information.

Second, the government plans to expand its collection of biometric information, including fingerprints and digital photos, to visitors from 150 countries. The law currently applies to 29 countries and one territory, meaning this constitutes a massive expansion in the amount of personal data the government collects.

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