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  • Howard Law

Movie-theft is not a victimless crime

The opposition to Fairplay Canada’s campaign against movie-thievery arrived on-cue, and off-key, as expected.

The industry coalition of Canadian unions, guilds, broadcasters, and film studios is asking the CRTC to stop the whack-a-mole game of chasing offshore pirate websites and institute an effective geo-blocking regime that stops the most blatant theft sites. Twenty countries including Great Britain, France, South Korea, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Greece and Denmark have already done what Fairplay is proposing: protect their own cultural industries from thieves.

The Fairplay Coalition, including the media unions Unifor, ACTRA, IATSE, and the Director’s Guild, wants a stop to the job-killing drain of $500 million annually from the Canadian movie and TV industry.

Predictably, the apologists for the big rip-off claim to speak in the name of Internet freedom, using the tired gun-nut argument that if government curbs the freedom to be extreme, then tomorrow we will be living in a police state. To quote Open Media’s Laura Tribe, “it will be an official Internet censorship committee…and open the door for overreaching censorship in Canada… like using a machine gun to kill a mosquito.”

Well, it hasn’t happened in any of the democracies that have taken action.

University of Ottawa copyright prof Michael Geist, the best known libertarian voice for a world wild web, says that a website blocking law would be without judicial oversight. He’s wrong: the Federal Court can review any CRTC action.

He casts doubt on the actual size of the massive revenue leak, meaning it might only be $250 million instead of $500 million: as if stealing fewer millions would be okay.

More to the point: do the Internet libertarians have any clue about the impact on honest hard-working Canadians toiling in our TV and film companies that are losing these millions?

Film set hairdresser Peggy Kyriakidou is one such media worker.

“Making a decent living in the film industry is a struggle,” said the single-mother working in Toronto’s film business for the last 25 years.

“The work isn’t steady and our incomes are dictated by the profitability of the studios. It’s tough making ends meet. Stealing movies makes it so much harder.”

Bell Media CTV’s crime reporter Stéphane Giroux sees it the same way:

“We’ve had layoffs at the Montréal station and we work hard to deliver important local stories under tight budgets,” said the 25-year veteran on the Québec news scene.

“People imagine broadcasters are rolling in money, but only a handful of local TV stations in Canada turn a profit. Our owner makes money on its movie business that it spends on local news. We can’t afford to have millions stolen by pirate websites.”

It’s look-in-the-mirror time for us all, not just Mr. Geist. Is it okay to steal from Bell (which employs 50,000 Canadians), Rogers (25,000), Shaw Communications (20,000), or Québecor (10,000) because they are “big” and “they can afford it.”? Peggy and Stéphane would say no.

How many Canadian media workers have to pay the price for piracy before we stop taking the name of Internet freedom in vain?

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