Bill C-11 could bring SOPA-like online piracy laws to Canada

Screen grabs capture Wikipedia, Google, Mozilla and Reddit during their online blackout protest.As the murky status of SOPA and PIPA keeps us in a fog, a Canadian digital policy expert warns us of a clandestine campaign to bring similar online piracy laws north of the border.

The Stop Online Piracy Act was effectively shelved - for the time being - by the U.S. House of Representatives last week. What has been dubbed the "largest online protest in history" appeared to ruffle some feathers in Congress, but Michael Geist, Internet and ecommerce law professor at the University of Ottawa, has warned of a SOPA-like bill to be reintroduced before the House of Commons in the near future.

In a recent post to his personal blog, Geist delves into Bill C-11, a copyright reform legislation that could allow our country to become "a prime target for SOPA-style rules."

"Lobby groups are likely to intensify their efforts to export SOPA-like rules to other countries," explains Geist. "In fact, a close review of the unpublished submissions to the Bill C-32 legislative committee reveals that several groups have laid the groundwork to add SOPA-like rules into Bill C-11, including blocking websites and expanding the 'enabler provision' to target a wider range of websites."

One of Geist's major concerns lies in an effort to expand on the "enabler provision" of Bill C-11. As Jameson Berkow explains in a Financial Post story, "groups such as the Canadian Independent Music Association and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada have been advocating for Ottawa to expand the provision to allow them to go after not just sites containing copyright-infringing content, but also those 'enabling' acts of infringement as well."

Similar to the proponents of SOPA, which largely consists of Hollywood film studios and major record labels, the bulk of those supporting the reintroduction of Bill C-11 earn their keep in the entertainment industry. They argue that a lack of substantial anti-piracy legislation has and will continue to put millions of industry jobs at risk.

Yet Google Inc., perhaps the largest presence to stand against SOPA-style legislation, has argued that such rules, had they been implemented back in 2004, would have made it impossible for YouTube to exist, let alone flourish into the world's largest online video service.

Geist was one of the first to raise awareness of the Canadian implications of SOPA, and his latest blog on Bill C-11 has done much of the same. But Barry Sookman, partner in the Toronto office of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, is quick to discredit Geist's arguments.

"Even if Bill C-11 is amended to cover sites that are primarily designed, operated or used to enable infringement or which induce infringement it would still be inconceivable that the section could be used 'to shut down mainstream sites such as YouTube' as he claims," said Sookman in the Financial Post.

"Michael Geist's blog post fails to point out that Section 27(2.4) of Bill C-11 has six factors that a court must consider before it can conclude that a site is liable for enablement. It is not remotely possible that mainstream sites such as YouTube could be caught."

Stay tuned, folks. It looks like the polarizing battle for anti-piracy legislation will continue for Canadians, as well as our neighbours to the south.

How do you feel about the potential for Bill C-11 to be approved in Canada? Let us know in the comments below. For more information on the U.S. SOPA bill, visit our SOPA coverage page.