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VPNs Under Threat In Canada

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

The newly elected Canadian government is considering a number of measures, including a possible ban on the use of VPNs within the country; as a part of its copyright policy reform. As per the recent media reports, Heritage minister Mélanie Joly has been holding discussions regarding current copyright laws as well as the future course of action with the department’s officials. These details were released by the government as a part of ministerial briefing documents and they shed a light over how the Justin Trudeau government is planning to shape the copyright law in the future.

The briefing documents highlight three important issues which may impact copyright policy in a significant way. The first one is related to the use of anonymity services like Virtual Private Networks for the purpose of copyright infringement. The document highlights that while VPNs are used by corporates to keep their communications secure, they are also being used by a number of internet users to keep their online activities private. Due to the way how the VPN technology works, these privacy services can also be used for copyright infringement activities.

The second issue highlighted by the document refers to the practice of accessing copyrighted content via “hybrid legal/illegal” means. While the document does not clearly specify what constitutes hybrid access, experts suggest that the issue refers to the practice of accessing unlicensed content within Canada via foreign streaming services (for example, U.S. version of Netflix). While Netflix is a legal service and even has a Canadian version, many users prefer to access its US version due to a richer content library and the availability of far more titles. Here again, VPNs play a key role since they allow Canadian users to circumvent GEO-IP blocks and access content which may not be licensed within the country.

Apart from the above two issues, the briefing document also suggests blocking of illegal websites that are hosted outside the country. This may include blocking not only the unlicensed gambling websites but also foreign streaming websites which facilitate copyright infringement. However, blocking of specific websites could prove difficult since the government would need to justify its motive behind such a move as well as direct all Canadian ISPs to enforce such a ban. Not only that, blocking websites could also invite backlash not only from the internet users but also from civil liberty groups that oppose censorship in all forms. And let’s not forget that such a move is ultimately bound to fail since Canadian internet users already know how to circumvent such bans through VPNs.

The briefing document clearly shows that the Canadian government is serious about strengthening copyright laws. However, the authorities must implement new/modified copyright policy only after holding discussions with all the stakeholders since any irrational move could impact millions of users adversely. The government officials must also keep in mind that there are hundreds of valid reasons for using VPNs so blocking them just to enforce copyright laws doesn’t make much of a sense.

April 27, 2016

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