Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Space (Bell) has no Class when it comes to protecting copyright

To say I am a fan of the Doctor Who universe would be an understatement.

I've been watching since childhood.  In preparation of the 50th anniversary in November 2013 I did a re-watch of every episode since 1963.  I purchased the DVD of every story available in DVD format, listened to the soundtrack for those where video has been lost, and  in one case listened to the audio book of the novelization.  I have all the DVD's for spin-offs Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures, many CD's of audiobooks and soundtracks, and am a subscriber to many audio play series via Big Finish (Doctor Who main range pre-paid through to October 2019).  I even get a daily briefing from Doctor Who News sent to my email.

I heard the rumors, read the announcements, watched the trailers and interviews, and was eagerly anticipating the launch of spin-off Class. While I would prefer to have watched Saturday when the first episodes were released, I've become familiar with having to wait until the next day to stream from Space.ca which is where the BBC points fans from their Class website.  When all I could see from the Space show page for Class last night was rave reviews and a trailer, I started to look for details.

On the Facebook page for Space a representative wrote the following when asked about streaming options.
Space Unfortunately, episodes of Class will not be available on space.ca. If you are a Bell, Rogers or Telus customer, you can watch past episodes OnDemand now!
I've asked on Twitter, hoping to get a more relevant response:
The infuriating "reply" I received was:

Cable vs Streaming

Streaming is a replacement for cable in the same way that automobiles were a replacement for horse drawn carriages and indoor plumbing was a replacement for outhouses.  It is a one-way modernization that once someone makes the transition they will not be interested in going backwards.

Telling people to "sit down, shut up, and get a cable package" whenever fans ask for legal streaming options doesn't drive them to cable.   For those who have modernized away from cable television they have a few options for the programming they want to watch.
  • Legal streaming/download options
  • Later release on DVD or second-run streaming services like CraveTV
  • Don't watch the show
  • Unauthorized/illegal streaming/download options

Did I mention I was a big fan of the Doctor Who universe?  Not watching the show or waiting months for the DVD release (or possibly even longer for it to eventually show up on poor services like CraveTV) are not options I'm willing to tolerate for this show.

This leaves me with only two options:
  • Legal streaming/download options
  • Unauthorized/illegal streaming/download options

I find infringing Doctor Who related copyright offensive

I am an author of software and non-software copyrighted works, so understand the importance of respecting author rights.  I spent more than a decade active with the copyright revision process (including hosting digital-copyright.ca) trying to protect the rights of independent creators like myself.

More than that, I am a fan of the Doctor Who universe and wish it to continue for another 50 years -- well beyond how long I'll be on this planet.

This is why I find what Space (Bell) is doing so offensive.  Rather than informing fans of legal streaming/download options they are driving them to unauthorized/illegal streaming/download options.  In this Bell is not the victim, but the perpetrator of contributory copyright infringement.

Lobbiests from intermediaries like Bell and their subsidiaries like Space, HBO Canada and CTV lobbied the government heavily during the last copyright revision process to get more power for them to blame fans for infringement these companies are causing.  They mutated the "inducement" concept where those like Bell who induced infringement would be liable for contributory infringement to a quite different "enablement" where only those who enable unauthorized access are liable.

The claim was the worst contributory copyright infringers in Canada were entities like ISOHunt, when I have always believed that dishonor belonged to Bell and similar companies like Roger, Telus and their subsidiaries.

In the ministerial briefing documents for the new Minister of Heritage Honourable Mélanie Joly included discussion of blocking the use of VPN's to bypass region restrictions to otherwise legally access content.  This blocking only increases infringement, and if anything Canadians should be assisted in cross-border shopping for content when Canadian distributors are blocking and/or hiding legal options.

The BBC should be forced to go after Bell, not Canadians

Copyright keeps coming up in the Canadian Content in a Digital World Consultations and Canada will be starting another round of copyright revision consultations soon.

One obvious suggestion to massively reduce copyright infringement in Canada is to have copyright holders, such as the BBC, be forced to pursue all business and legal avenues against contributory infringers like Bell before they are allowed to avail themselves of Canadian Copyright law against private citizens.  This should include our Notice and Notice system, so citizens are not harassed when they are induced to infringe by Canadian re-distributors.

On February 23, 2016 Bell Media and BBC Worldwide North America announced a multi-platform exclusive agreement. I first became aware of the agreement when past seasons of Doctor Who were announced to be removed from Netflix Canada starting on September 15.  Essentially, Bell is removing legal streaming options for fans of the Doctor Who Universe, forcing services like Netflix to block lawful cross-border shopping for content, and is refusing to advertise legal alternatives.

Clearly Bell is not a partner to BBC that is doing what it can to protect BBC's copyright in Canada, but the perpetrator of contributory infringement.  If BBC wishes to protect its copyright in Canada it should amend its agreement with Bell to demand they offer and advertise legal streaming options.  If Bell isn't willing to fix this problem, BBC should revoke their exclusive license and offer non-exclusive licensing to non-infringers.

Bell is hiding legal options

Space is not the only subsidiary of Bell which is the exclusive distributor of popular content where fans will gain access to unauthorized alternatives when legal options aren't made available or known to them.

While less than Doctor Who, I am also a fan of Game of Thrones which is distributed by HBO Canada. HBO Canada is also owned by Bell.  I have waited months (nearly a full year for some seasons) to watch GoT when the DVD was finally released because I was told that Game of Thrones wasn't available for legal streaming in Canada.  I was shocked to learn this weekend that GoT was available for legal streaming in Canada, only hidden by HBO Canada/Bell.

There was even a series of articles on the CBC talking about how "upset" Bell was claiming to be that people were going to unauthorized streaming sites.  They claimed to be upset people were cross-border shopping and accessing legally in the USA from HBO GO using VPNs, and upset that people were going to infringing sites.  In none of the interviews of Bell representatives were legal streaming options mentioned that were not tied to a cable package.

Given I was shocked to learn that HBO Canada is offering many HBO programs, including GoT, on Google Play, I thought to look for Class. It is available, with a "More from Space" on the page listing other Space programming available for legal streaming/download (Supernatural, Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Being Human).

I paid $17.99 ($2.49 per episode, $23.99HD or $17.99SD), and last night watched the first two episodes.  This is one of those services where new episodes are delivered to me as they are released weekly.

You would have to purchase more full seasons this way than I have time to watch in order to compare to going backward in time and getting a useless cable package.  This is especially true when added to a Netflix subscription.

Why was this not mentioned on the Space.ca website?  Like Bell's HBO Canada website, Space has an obligation to HBO, BBC and fans to inform Canadians about all legal options, with all legal streaming options being prominently listed on the official Canadian website being a minimum.

It seems obvious to me that Bell, as a BDU and owner of broadcasters, is in a conflict of interest when it comes to the legal distribution in Canada of copyrighted works.  They are far more interested in trying to abuse BBC and HBO's popular titles to protect their cable business than they are in protecting BBC or HBO copyright or maximizing revenue streams for their partners.

It is long past time for HBO, BBC, and other copyright holders to go after Bell and their subsidiaries and demand change.  If Bell continues to disrespect creators rights then licensing should be revoked and offered to entities that have far more respect.

In the case of HBO and BBC they should be offering HBO GO and BBC iPlayer directly to Canadians, avoiding relying on dishonest Canadian re-distributors.

For copyright holders which don't have their own streaming service, and want to offer their content on a service based on fixed monthly fees for a wide variety of programming, Netflix has demonstrated it can do that well and protect the interests of creators.

I don't want to subsidize a contributory infringer

Given I don't think of Bell as a legitimate Canadian source of programming, but a contributory infringer of programming I'm a fan of, it is very hard for me to stomach being a customer.  Like paying money to a ransomeware scam artist, it repulses me to be financially rewarding bad behavior.

It was uncomfortable purchasing GoT and Class from Google Play knowing that Bell subsidiaries would be getting a cut.  It is disturbing to be a CraveTV customer, and I'm doing it mostly to be participating in government consultations and interacting with policy makers while having experience with the so-called "Canadian" brands the government seems to want to force on us.

There are few ways for me to offer feedback.  One thing I have done is refuse to get interested in shows which are produced by Bell.  One example, produced in association with BBC America and Bell Media's Space, is Orphan Black.

Orphan Black is shot on location in Toronto, and is promoted by many as "Canadian Content".  I find it embarrassing that "Canadian Content", especially in the SciFi/Fantasy area I'm most interested in, has become synonymous with a close association with one of Canada's contributory infringers.

While I know that Orphan Black is a show I would enjoy, I refuse to watch it because of its close association with Bell Media.

This is also why I don't want to see cross-subsidies where services such as Netflix or Google Play would be levied in order to allegedly "promote Canadian Content".  I don't for a second believe these levy systems, designed for the broadcast era, would be promoting Canadian content but subsidizing Canada's top contributory infringers as they block Canadian stories from being easily and legally accessed by Canadians.

Modernize Canadian Content policy

Canadian Content policy should return to its roots of ensuring that Canadians can access stories told by fellow Canadians.

The CanCon quota system was designed to protect audiences from intermediaries (broadcasters, etc) who were favoring cheaper foreign content over Canadian.

Any tax policies, including levies, should have a similar aim.  Intermediaries which are blocking Canadians accessing content of their choice -- including but not exclusively Canadian content -- should be prohibited and/or levied. Intermediaries which are promoting access to Canadian content (whether headquartered in Canada or elsewhere) should be subsidized. 

CanCon should not be treated as a form of unconditional welfare handout, all too often granted to wealthy intermediaries who already largely exist due to government largess.  CanCon should be public policy serving the interests of Canadian citizens and accountable to Canadian taxpayers.  Most Canadian taxpayers are audiences, and the policy should be focused on bringing audiences what we want -- including convenient access to new Canadian authored and produced content.

We must not expand an outdated broadcast-era policy which would tax/levy services like Netflix to subsidize companies like Bell and their subsidiaries. We should subsidize services like Netflix which make content conveniently and cheaply available to Canadians, and taxing/levying contributory infringing intermediaries like Bell which are trying to filter access.

Monday, October 24, 2016

#DigiCanCon Comments on @shomicanada @whoismrrobot @GooglePlay TV , @HBOCanada @GameOfThrones

I've been a happy Netflix customer since 2011, dropped cable TV in 2012, and frequently purchase DVD's of movies or seasons of scripted TV programming. This year I've reviewed CraveTV,  CTV GO and Showcase's website, and decided to subscribe to Shomi to do a review.

As with other services offered by broadcaster or BDUs (cable companies) I didn't expect to be happy with Shomi.

What I (and a growing percentage of the market) want is to be able to conveniently watch the shows I want, at a location I want, at a time of my choosing, on devices of my choosing, and at a reasonable price.

What the broadcast industry wants to offer is programming of their choosing, at a time of their choosing, on devices of their choosing, and at the maximum price they believe the market will bear.  The digital transition for cable was several steps backward from analog where subscribers could choose their own brand of tuners to digital where the tuner brand is imposed.  They are not offering services based on sound market analysis as they claim that if anyone doesn't want to purchase their products and services the only reason could be they are "pirates".  This scapegoat is blocking them from offering services that their potential customer base actually wants, and the more "copyright" talk that blames audiences that happens the less likely the market can ever mature.


As far as content is concerned, Shomi is similar to CraveTV in that it is older scripted TV programming that was broadcast much earlier.  I scanned the catalog and didn't see anything I could recognize as current seasons.  CraveTV and Space TV are both owned by Bell, and I wouldn't be surprised if exclusive licensing by Bell blocked the Shomi Partnership from licensing a larger catalog of Sci-Fi and Fantasy scripted TV. That said, there would still be shows I would watch if Shomi were going to be around longer.


Shomi's technology is far more advanced than CraveTV.  Unlike CraveTV where the website can't cast to a Chromecast using a recent Chrome browser, Shomi had no problems streaming directly from the website.  I have also downloaded the Shomi for phone to my Nexus 4 and Shomi for tablet to my ASUS Flip chromebook, and it works well on both devices watching on-screen and casting to my TV.

HDMI CEC is supported by the Shomi Chromecast application.  This may seem like a minor feature, but it is very important.  It allows for pausing and resuming of programming using the TV's remote control.  This avoids having to get the device that initiated the show opened - screen blanked so I need to log in, and a good chance you have to battle the app to get the pause to work.  By then the phone call/etc is over and you need to fight the interface to rewind.

Shomi always seems to remember which episode of a series I was on, and unlike CraveTV doesn't require that I search for the series to choose a different episode. The "Shomi later" bookmarking and "Recently watched" listings work well and allow you to easily see which episodes you have seen and (re)watch whichever episode you want next.

Both the browse (by category) and collections (themed, not sure who the creators are) are a great way to discover other content on the site.

While Shomi isn't as advanced as Netflix and Google (YouTube and Google Play), the interface and technology is considerably more advanced than what Bell offers with CraveTV or other subsidiaries( CTV.ca, space.ca sites and CTV GO, SPACE GO apps).   In an ideal world it would be CraveTV/etc shutting down and all that content made available on the Shomi platform, but that isn't what is happening.  Maybe Bell will purchase the platform to upgrade their services, if they have any interest in improving them.

Mr. Robot

The show I decided to watch on Shomi was the first season of Mr. Robot.  Very interesting political drama with quite a bit of technology embedded in the story. This is not your annoying abuse of technology where it is as magical as Harry Potter, but where real-world technology is being used.  You have advanced computer users using what they actually would -- Kali Linux on laptops, OpenWrt in routers -- and you see real code in real programming languages (and real apps and shell commands) popping up on screens.

You have these people using these advanced skills for political aims. How you would classify them (Hacker vs cracker, hero or villain, freedom fighter or terrorist) is really up to the viewer and having the viewer thinking about this appears to be an important part of the narrative.

I'd be posting spoilers if I said any more, and I want to recommend the show without spoiling any of the quite large number of sometimes quite twisted twists.

After watching the first season I was immediately drawn to the second season. It was aired on Showcase back in July, and is no longer available from that website. In some ways I was glad as the Showcase website is the worst streaming site I've used in decades.

I looked up in watchincanada.ca and it only suggested the second season was on iTunes.  In context, that was amusing -- many politically active advanced computer users, such as myself, consider Apple to be a political opponent and not a vendor we would ever consider using.  To put a show that would appeal to us only on a service that many of us find offensive didn't make sense.

Google Play Movies and TV

I decided to look Mr Robot up on Google Play (with Google sitting above the line of what I find politically tolerable) and found Mr Robot Season 2 for $16.99.

While Google Play Movies and TV streams like Netflix does, it is organized and priced more like DVDs with purchase and rental.  There isn't a fixed monthly price, but different pricing for different content.

As an example, Mr. Robot season 1 and 2 are $1.99 per episode, or $16.99 for the entire season (10 episodes for season 1, 12 episodes for season 2).    Game of Thrones episodes are $3.49 per episode, or $33.99 per 10 episode season which is comparable to the DVD pricing ($42.99 on Amazon.ca at the moment, but that price will likely be lower by the time it ships November 15).

Game of Thrones and Bell Media

Wait a minute? What?

Yes, I did just list Game of Thrones, which really surprised me when I saw it. I didn't even think to look for it on Google Play because everything I read and heard from fellow GoT fans suggested that Bell was blocking GoT from access to non-cable subscribers in Canada -- meaning I had to wait as with previous seasons for GoT to eventually be released on DVD in order to not infringe.  Last year the DVD was finally release in March with the next season starting broadcast at the end of April.  It was almost a full year with other fans blurting out spoilers in my presence, making the series less enjoyable for me as time went on.

I saw no mention of Google Play in a series of CBC articles in April,  May and June where Bell was claiming it was easy to pay and yet Bell representatives only spoke of cable-tied options. When you look at the Game of Thrones page on the HBO Canada (Bell) site there is no mention of non-cable alternatives for paying for the series. Not even a mention of DVDs of older seasons.  The HBO Canada site mentions TMN GO which offers GoT for streaming, but their FAQ clearly states "At this time, TMN GO is only offered as part of a subscription to The Movie Network through a participating Television Service Provider. It is not available directly through us."

When did this show become available on Google Play for Canadians? Canadians are often blocked from content available to US customers from services like Netflix and Google Play -- and there is no equivalent to Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, so I quite legitimately assumed all talk about US alternatives including HBO GO didn't apply to Canadians.  Has it been available for a few seasons, just hidden from fans, or only made available this year?  Was it only made available some time this summer because of media attention made to the fact that HBO Canada (Bell) has been refusing to allow fans to pay?

Similar to shows which offer new episodes weekly during the broadcast period the GoT Google Play page says "Purchase Season 6 and it will be available for playback and added to your library as soon as it's available for release".  Did I really have a legal option to watch starting at the end of April which Bell deliberately hid from me?  Why no mention in the interviews that CBC did of Bell representatives, potentially informing fans of the option back in May when it was first being released?

Like most of my interactions with the "Canadian" broadcasters I feel frustrated at how disrespectful I'm treated as a fan.

To confirm that Google Play wasn't talking about the timing of the DVD release next month and that it was already available, I purchased the season and immediately confirmed episode 10 is playable (just the start of opening sequence -- spoilers!).  I then logged into Amazon.ca and canceled my pre-order of the DVD box set.

These are market problems that must be discussed as Bell likely sees Google Play as competition for cable, putting them in a conflict of interest situation which makes them unsuited to own "HBO Canada".  The lack of mention of non-cable alternatives by HBO Canada (Bell) is something that the competition bureau, CRTC and HBO should be watching closely.  The HBO Canada site should be focused on the widest possible distribution in Canada of HBO content, not be a way for Bell to try to push people to legacy BDU services - that's tied selling, not a legitimate business practice, and is a practice that shouldn't be tolerated in Canada.

If our Copyright Act was modern the lack of even mentioning legal alternatives would clarify that Bell is at the root of infringement in Canada (not fans), and Bell (or the copyright holder who inappropriately gave them an exclusive license in Canada) shouldn't be allowed to complain about infringement which Bell is inducing.

Bell isn't the victim, but perpetrators of contributory copyright infringement.

Saying "sit down, shut up, and get a cable package" is a matter of control and conformity, not compensation, and copyright law shouldn't be able to be abused by companies which demonstrate they are uninterested in compensation.

If Bell was the slightest bit interested in protecting HBO's copyright in Canada they would be featuring all methods of paying clearly on the HBO Canada website.  In my mind one way to tell when copyright law is modern is if it forced copyright holder like HBO to go after contributory infringers like Bell first before they would be allowed to go after private citizens.


The Google Play Movies and TV's technology has features even beyond Netflix. Like Netflix its Chromecast app supports HDMI CEC, and as the same company that created the Chromecast devices will always support each new feature with advancing revisions of the device and software.  While Google Play has its own app, purchased content is also visible through the YouTube app so that convenience (or distraction depending on your preferences) is available.

Missing from Netflix, Google Play has an offline mode where you can pre-cache episodes and watch offline - such as when flying or other travel when Internet connectivity is unreliable or not fast enough for streaming.

There is a really cool feature I hadn't seen before when watching GoT episodes. While casting to the larger TV screen, circles were popping up on the tablet with the names of the actors (and characters) as well as the names of songs that are part of the soundtrack as they were part of the scene. This is a great use of the 2'nd screen beyond showing how far I am in the video. I couldn't find what this was with quick searching, so if anyone already knows I would appreciate links/etc. This is an amazing feature for shows like GoT that have many different story lines and many different characters moving forward in parallel. Now all I'd love to see is a map of Westeros in the background showing where people are :-)

Unfortunately you can't watch Google Play purchased content on all YouTube compatible devices. My Samsung Smart TV indicated "Video not playable on this device" when I tried to watch Mr. Robot episodes. Searching pointed me to the following answer on Google Video distribution settings which suggests that the copyright holder deliberately decided to disallow the content to work on this type of device.  This means the full remote control functionality (rewind, etc) is not available like it would be for regular YouTube or Netflix content using the Smart TV apps.

Market issues

When viewing the Mr. Robot content on the YouTube app I noticed it shows "NBCUniversalShowsCanada" as the user.  This got me thinking about who the supplier is for this content.  I looked up DC's Legends of Tomorrow and on a side-bar it indicates "More from CTV" and shows Arrow.  The Flash doesn't indicate who the distributor is, and Supergirl indicates Showcase.

This opens an obvious question: what will motivate broadcasters to fix their streaming sites when they can point to the expensive access via Google Play as if it were an alternative? I was considering paying for Supergirl season 2 to get away from the horrible Showcase website, but now that I know that it is Showcase that would get part of my money I dropped that idea.  I feel like I'm being pick-pocketed, not treated as a potential valued customer.

I'm quite uncomfortable with the idea that any part of my GoT payment is going to a contributory infringer (Bell) rather than only to HBO.

When I dropped cable I did so with the understanding that I would be redirecting as a minimum the money I was spending on cable to streaming services and DVDs.  I've been very happy with Netflix for new and older programming, have recently learned to hold my nose (try to forget it's Bell) and tolerate CraveTV and would have tolerated Shomi for older shows.  If CTV GO allowed me to log in via my CraveTV subscription it would make both services more valuable.

Google Play as a technology works great, and I would use it often if the broadcasters and/or copyright holders were more reasonable on pricing.  For about the same amount of money I am left with a trade-off between waiting for a late DVD release or purchasing through Google Play.  Google Play works on fewer devices, and because files are encrypted it is unknown when my paid library will cease to be "legally" accessible. As with other similar proprietary encrypted file formats, content available through Google Play cannot be trusted to be playable as long as a DVD will.

One option copyright holders should consider is appropriately priced bundles (Play now, receive DVD at release time) so that the ephemeral nature of encrypted Google Play content wouldn't deter purchases.  I have seen the reverse with recent "DVD + Digital HD" purchases where the "Digital HD" can be redeemed through Google Play.

The inclusion of Google Play among other options is much improved over purchases where you could only redeem through iTunes, which is useless to me. The DVD boxes and retailers don't indicate what service the "Digital HD" version is tied to, so I need to presume it doesn't exist and thus that possibility never adds value when I'm determining whether to purchase.  It is sad just how poor the studios are at marketing their own products, and how ignorant they are of how much the distribution medium matters.

Friday, October 21, 2016

PM Trudeau pushed away from electoral reform

There is media attention to PM Trudeau suggesting that we may not be getting rid of our antiquated First Past the Post just yet.  As a long-time electoral reformer I find this disappointing, but watching the debates I can understand where he is coming from.

While there is general but not unanimous agreement that our current system is outdated, what we would change it to is quite contentious.  If you want to get broad or near unanimous support for a given change, that will never happen.

Trudeau likely didn't realize how contentious this issue is.  He likely believed that he could introduce a small change, test the waters, and then expand from there as people have given the issue more thought.   The obvious contender for that is what Honourable Stéphane Dion had proposed years ago which is to keep everything else the same but switch from a ballot with a single "X" on it to a ranked ballot (Also known as Alternate Vote, or Instant Runoff).

Unfortunately the folks who spend all their time worried about how political parties are doing falsely claim this would exaggerate false majorities. These activists want a system where the seats in the house for a political party represent how people voted for political parties. They seem ignorant of fellow Canadians who vote for representatives from their riding, ignoring party affiliations, and don't believe that political parties can ever represent them. These voters don't believe claims that a party-focused PR system brings in "more women" or other groups not represented in parliament as they are in society, but believe it only brings in more passive party hacks. While not all PR systems are party focused, the marketing done by the PR representatives are party focused and thus those who don't trust political parties end up opposing PR as a concept.

There are many of us who (backed up by history) consider political parties to be ephemeral labels that are used as a temporary short-form for ideas. In a working democracy our representatives are not only free but expected to switch to another ephemeral label (cross the floor, or start a new party) if a party stands in the way of the MP representing their constituents.  While some of these labels have been the same or similar over the years, what individuals and values the labels represent has radically changed over time.

These are my views based on decades of closely observing Canadian politics, and other people feel differently -- quite opposite at times.  This political debate can get heated.  Even though I sponsored the Fair Vote Canada website when they were first formed, I have recently distanced myself from that organization as I believe their focus on political parties and "PR or nothing" campaign is delaying electoral modernization in Canada.

Mr Trudeau also seemed unaware of the divisions in his own party on this.  I know of Liberal members who favor FPTP as this is the system (not Alternate Vote) that has favored the Liberals who can run on their "don't split the vote" campaign.  I know of Liberal members who oppose MMP or any other system that puts political parties on the ballot as they believe political parties have too much power already.  There are Liberals active within "Fair" Vote Canada who agree with their "PR or nothing" campaign.  We all know of Liberals including Dion and Trudeau who have publicly spoken in favor of ranked ballots (first step being keeping the system the same as it is now with Alternate Vote, and potentially introducing multi-member district STV or an MMP-style second ballot question on party once the public is ready for more radical change).  I don't think there is broad support for any specific change (or lack of change) within the Liberal party itself, so this can't be expected of Canadians generally.

I don't know how this will turn out.
  • The Conservatives like the current system as it has given them many false majorities.  They push for a referendum knowing that this will mean the system can't change given how divided Canadians are on the issue.
  • The NDP and Greens have falsely equated the election promise to being a system of proportional representation because Mr. Trudeau mistakenly used the "make every vote count" phase around people who believe that this phrase is equivalent to saying Proportional Representation.  These groups can't even be trusted doing or reporting on polling given their confusion on language (deliberate or otherwise) will lead to inconclusive or invalid results.
  • The Liberals are stuck in a messy place given there is nothing they can do (including doing nothing) that won't make many people angry.  They can't go ahead with a simple change and not have someone claim they were lying about a misunderstood campaign promise, nor can they make more radical changes without having many people on a variety of sides of the debate saying they are destroying our democratic system.   Whether they do or don't have a referendum there will be people suggesting they did the wrong thing.
  • Many Canadians are throwing up their hands with a "pox on all their houses" type feeling given how divisive the issue has become.

While I'm not a fan of the Liberals, and campaigned against Liberals during the last election based on this issue, I kinda feel sorry for the predicament they put themselves in.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Supergirl Season 2 - the ShowCase.ca website and #DigiCanCon

I wish I had something relevant to contribute on the International Day of the Girl, but I don't.  The closest thing was that today was the first day I could watch the first episode of season 2 of Supergirl.

There is a stretch of a link.  This show is full of powerful women that women and young girls can be inspired by, and I don't mean the alien from Krypton with the super powers that is the title character of the show. Other than a few cringe-worthy references it is well done and integrated into the story (the US president being a woman is great, the suggestion in season 1 that it might be Hillary not so much.  And I have a beef with the Margaret Atwood reference in S1E6. I know I'd have something to talk with her about ...). Supergirl's human adoptive sister and the other women at the D.E.O demonstrate the ways in which a woman can do these jobs as good as (and in some important ways better) than their male counterparts. Kara Danvers' (Supergirls alter ego) boss Cat Grant ends up being inspirational as the character grows on you, and not the high-strung personality you are superficially introduced to in the first episodes of the first season.

I'm loving the series, and proud that the second season is filmed in Vancouver, like many of my other favorite SF/fantasy shows.  The studio work for Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow is also done in Vancouver, with some other locations used for some non-studio work.

But my opinion on the art isn't what people expect of me, and not likely interesting for anyone to read.

Watching season 1 was convenient, and I was kept in the story.  My major problem was that it was extremely late, having only being released on August 9.  I purchased the DVD of the season, ripped it, and copied the episodes to my tablet.  I watched episodes on my travel to and from Fredericton last week as well as watching in my hotel room (brought a USB cable to watch on larger TV hotel provided).

Season 2 so far is not so great.  The only place I can find it legally available to stream to Canadians at this time is the Showcase.ca website.  Unlike the CTV.ca website and the CTV GO app I watch the other series of the Arrowverse with the Showcase website doesn't support Chromecast and there is no app I can use to assist with streaming.

I haven't seen a television streaming website handle commercials this badly in a long time.   The episode is moving forward and you see the break where the commercial would be.  The show starts up again and then in mid-sentence the show is paused and you see a few images of one commercial before another flips in.  The sound volume is erratic with some commercials being at a similar level to the episodes while others are at a much higher volume. Most of the commercials (and it is the same few advertisers over and over again) have blocky low resolution video that jumps as frames can't be displayed to keep up with the sound.  Sometimes one commercial starts and then mid-sentence another one cuts in.  After that disaster and it manages to count down 6 attempts at commercials you are finally jarred back into the episode to figure out what the rest of the sentence was the actors were saying.  It is distracting, and greatly reduces the ability to follow and enjoy the story.

I participated a bit on twitter today on #DigiCanCon as there was an event in Halifax.  I found it frustrating and wrote about how some not-so-creative "creators" were again claiming that Canadians don't want to pay for content and that respecting copyright is important.

I have to ask that question again: Where is this magical cash register they keep claiming exists?

I would be *VERY* interested to pay money for a good streaming service -- technologically comparable to Netflix -- to access the programming I want in a timely manner (not after the DVD release like CraveTV -- or whatever the soon-to-be-closed Shomi was doing).  You know, the stuff the Canadian broadcasters have exclusive rights for and are blocking Canadians from accessing elsewhere.

Instead I keep hearing about people wanting to tax Netflix, rather than recognizing that Netflix is what is saving television from the broadcasters. These content creators should be thankful and maybe even subsidizing Netflix.

Maybe we should condition any Canadian taxpayer subsidies (including tax credits) for content creation on the results of that funding being available to Canadians in reasonable ways (and saying sit down, shut up, and get a Cable package isn't reasonable).  I'm all for taxpayer money being used to incentivise Canadian production, but it should not be seen as another form of a welfare handout for creators but as something that returns real value to taxpayers: which is primarily the audience.

I would love there to be a competitor to Netflix accessible to Canadians, possibly even a Canadian one, but until the broadcasters and BDUs get out of the way I don't expect that to happen.  Even though cable is a different market, the BDUs see streaming as competition and thus are highly unlikely to ever offer a comparable service to Netflix.

Then again, compared to the horrible streaming website that Showcase is offering, even CraveTV looks good.

Is Contributory Infringement a more appropriate #DigiCanCon topic?

When I read the following tweets I became concerned that we might see a repeat with the current Canadian Content in a Digital World Consultations of what I saw in the 10+ years of copyright consultations and committee hearings (C-60, C-61, C-32)  that eventually lead to the passage of Bill C-11.

This is similar to how ACRTA and the Writers Guild continuously and mistakenly suggest that a willingness on the part of audiences to pay is a primary or even important consideration when it comes to scenarios when people are not paying.

Educating people, young or otherwise, about the importance of paying for content is an irrelevant conversation when appropriate mechanisms to pay aren't offered.

Secondary Infringement

This got me thinking -- maybe there is an aspect of copyright law that is appropriate to be discussing, specifically policies targeted at those businesses which are the root cause of that potential infringement.

The idea of contributory or secondary infringement has been part of copyright law for quite some time (See section 27), with a new section on provision of services that "enable" infringement being added as part of Bill C-11.  The recent addition was a narrowing of a concept called "inducement" where those who were seen to be "inducing" people to infringe would be considered liable as contributors to that infringement.

This concept was narrowed to not go after those who induce infringement, but only unauthorized providers of services which enable access.  The reasons for this change was obvious to me, but not to the government: the entities most guilty of inducing Canadians to infringe copyright were many of the same people lobbying the government for even "stronger" copyright.

Las weekend I openly asked the question: Can Canadians stream TV without eventually going to unauthorized sources?

Whether I personally go to an unauthorized and/or infringing source to watch the missing episode is ultimately irrelevant.  This episode is unavailable for me to pay, so claiming it is a matter of price is nonsense as no price has been offered.  The only choices offered to me by the broadcasters are not watching the episode (and subsequent episodes this season) or to go to an unauthorized (and possibly infringing) source.

What is relevant is that even someone who has spent decades speaking with fellow authors about how we can receive better material and moral rewards for our creativity feels pressure to infringe copyright by failures of the business models of intermediaries.

Copyright should become a tool to go after those who are inducing the infringement.  In this case the perpetrator is Bell Canada, who through actions and inaction through their various subsidiaries is easily the greatest secondary infringer in Canada.  They are not so coincidentally the perpetrator in the example I gave in my posting.

Note: I'm aware that it is unlikely that the relevant copyright holders would go after these secondary infringers as they are blocked by a Stockholm Syndrome where they have far too much sympathy for those who are the largest cause of copyright infringement in Canada.  It might require that government agencies be able to step in and protect these interests, which includes the rights of Canadian audiences who both want to access content and be offered mechanisms to pay.

Broadcast Television and BDUs not a relevant market

Anyone who tries to tell me that I should just subscribe to a cable package and be happy about it must realize that what they are asking for is conformity and not compensation.

I consider BDU's to be an outdated method of watching scripted programming, and one that is in many ways incompatible with my livelihood.  Telling me I should just suck it up is rudely throwing money on the floor, from someone who thinks that the customer could never be right.  You lose all authority to be claiming that those who don't pay are somehow immoral, rather than your unwillingness to accept our money (or being apologists for secondary infringers) being the core problem.

There are practical business reasons why I'm uninterested in a BDU.

As a software author I depend on peoples ability to choose my software in order for me to get paid at all.  This makes attacks against software choice, not copyright infringement, the primary threat to my business interests.

In order for people to have software choice they need to not be forced into a narrow set of devices where the manufacturer imposes or filters what software is allowed to be used.  One of the ways that device choice has been greatly narrowed recently is through the tie between encrypted content and "authorized" devices that contain the decryption keys.  This tied selling between the ability to access content from "authorized" sources and specific brands of technology should be considered illegal under our Competition Act, but is currently presumed protected by the "technological measures" aspect of our Copyright Act.  While there has been no credible evidence to suggest this tied selling reduces rather than  incentivises copyright infringement, it does reduce software choice and infringes the rights of technology owners.

Television has been going backward in recent decades.  With analog OTA and cable the signalling was a vendor-neutral standard, allowing audiences to use access devices of their own choosing. Confusion around the digital transition was abused by BDUs where rather than using standard digital signalling as is used in other countries, the BDUs moved to using proprietary signalling requiring that people purchase or rent specific brands of technology authorized by the BDUs to access content. This alone makes BDUs an undesirable choice for me as a BDU subscription would be a payment to an industry that is promoting policies that if left unchecked will put me out of a job.

On top of the practical business reasons, there are also others.  I not only want to access scripted programming on the devices of my choosing, but I also want it to be at a time of my choosing.  Even if I had a legacy cable subscription I would only ever use the PVR function and never watch "live".  I am not a computer and am unwilling to have my life programmed by someone else.  I will watch programming when I am available to do so, not when someone at a broadcaster said I should watch it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Gap between “Public” and “Stakeholder” #DigiCanCon views needs repair

One of the odd contributions to the #DigiCanCon discussion was from ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists).  A tweet of their press release was re-tweeted by the Writers Guild of Canada (screenwriters), which is how I noticed it.

In their press release ACTRA proves Michael Geist's point.  Michael Geist was writing about how audiences (potential fans) were concerned with discovery and access to content, while "stakeholders" were focused on money.  In their reply ACTRA not only ignores what audiences were saying, but falsely claims that we were also talking about money.

I am a television fan.  I'm not just a television viewer, but a fan of the shows I like.  I don't watch sports or reality television, and focus on scripted programming.  I go to ComicCon as well as Ottawa Pop Expo, primarily to watch panels given by actors and screenwriters.  I am not only a fan of the programming they create but also of the creators, who I follow from show to show.  I currently watch the Arrowverse because of panels given at previous ComicCon from actors I became fans of from other shows.  In this case it was my love of Doctor Who since childhood, and listening to John Barrowman in fall 2014 speaking about Arrow and this spring Arthur Darvill speaking about Legends of Tomorrow.

I'm not going to generate one now, but any list of members of ACTRA and the Writers Guild of Canada that I am a fan of would be quite large (I held up my DVD of Sanctuary season 2 when I spoke in front of the C-32 committee). While I'm not exclusive to Canadian programming, some of the shows I have been the biggest fan of were filmed in Canada (many in Vancouver Film Studios).

Fans like me that should be seen as an important stakeholder for the members of these unions.

When I go to ComicCon I spend more than the entrance fee.  In a weekend I easily spend more money than a 4 year subscription to Netflix, which includes getting autographs from actors and writers. I badly want to fund the creators I am a fan of so that they can continue to create the shows I love. From many people I've spoken to on this issue, I know I am not alone in this.

The reality is that money isn't the issue for fans.  There are many barriers put against my ability to watch many of the shows I want to watch, leave alone being allowed to pay.  My posting from earlier today is only one of many I've written over decades trying to alert fellow creators to this problem. I am only a fan when it comes to "television", but I am an author of other software and non-software works and thus think about these issues as a fellow creator.

This is the divide that Michael Geist was hinting at, and that ACTRA (and by retweeting, the Writers Guild) have thus far refused to acknowledge.  Until they acknowledge and become part of the solution, they will remain part of the problem.  While it may not be about money for the fans who are being deterred or outright blocked from accessing and paying for this content, it becomes about money for the screenwriters and actors whose decisions are harming their own pocketbooks.

Can Canadians stream TV without eventually going to unauthorized sources?

In an earlier article discussing how Bell's CraveTV wasn't competative with Netflix, I suggested I would try to watch a few shows via the streaming sites offered by Canadian broadcasters. The shows I listed were:
  • Flash season 3 premiere: Tuesday, October 4 at 8E on CTV
  • Arrow season 5 premiere: Wednesday, October 5 at 8ET/PT on CTV Two
  • Legends of Tomorrow season 2 premiere: Thursday, October 13 at 8E on CTV Two
To this I was planning on adding a few more:
  • Supergirl season 2 premier: October 10 at 8E/7P on Showcase.
  • Once Upon A Time season 6 premier: Sunday September 26 on CTV
  • Marvel's Agents of Shield season 4 premiere was on Tuesday, September 20 on CTV
Episodes are only available for streaming on CTV GO (App and website) for less than a week.  I didn't have a chance to catch up on season 5 of Once Upon a Time, and the first episode of season 6 is already locked down to only be viewable to BDU (Broadcast Distribution Undertakings -- Cable, Satellite, Bell IPTV branded as FibeTV) subscribers.  Even though I am a subscriber to CraveTV, another Bell property, CTV GO won't let me sign in using my CraveTV ID.  I can't seem to find any mechanism to subscribe to CTV GO as a separate service.

Last week I was in Fredericton for a conference.  The hotel Wifi wasn't fast enough to stream television, so I didn't watch any streamed programming.  This means that I missed the second episode of Marvel's Agents of Shield, which is now locked down only to subscribers , having watched the first episode a week earlier on CTV GO.  I am now blocked from watching future episodes this way as I can't watch episode 3 without having seen episode 2 for long-form narratives such as these shows. Yet again, Bell won't allow me to pay money to subscribe to a service that would allow me to catch-up on the missing episode.

I'm left in an all too familiar situation.  I can drop watching those two shows now that they are unavailable to me as a Canadian, or I can find the missing episode from some unauthorized source (either legally in another country, or in a way that infringes copyright) in order to continue watching the season.  It would only need to be a few episodes to allow me to catch up and then continue watching the "authorized" way.

This is a reality that politicians and other policy makers need to understand: people are driven to unauthorized sources because they aren't given the option to subscribe from authorized sources.  While there may be a tiny fraction of people who infringe copyright because they don't want to pay, I firmly believe the vast majority of copyright infringement happens because legitimate methods to pay are not offered.

I have already proposed multiple times a simple legislative change to solve this type of problem, in the form of a modernization of the fair dealings aspect of Canadian copyright:
Fair dealing for non-commercial uses of works not otherwise offered for license under reasonable terms is not an infringement of copyright.
This would clarify that Canadians going to alternative unauthorized sources would not be an infringement unless there was a legitimate authorized source made available to them.

I don't believe this would encourage activities currently considered copyright infringement.  It would instead provide necessary incentives to copyright holders and their licensees to work harder to make the content available via legitimate authorized sources such as:

  • Broadcaster services such as CTV GO would have a mechanism for paid subscription independent of any BDU service.  This was already done with CraveTV and Shomi, which are owned by the same companies that own the streaming services in question.  When CraveTV and Shomi were launched they were also tied to a BDU service, but that mistake was corrected.
  • Fix some of the flaws with Canadian streaming services that allege they are trying to compete with Netflix -- the obvious being that they should make seasons of shows available via CraveTV and Shomi closer to when the seasons are being broadcast.
  • At the very least CraveTV and Shomi logins should work as an alternative to a BDU login for broadcaster provided services such as CTV GO which is owned by Bell along with CraveTV.  The relationship between Showcase (Corus, spun off from Shaw) and  Shomi (Rogers & Shaw) is more complex, but deals could have been reached with appropriate incentives.  This could even be offered as a premium add-on to these streaming services if the broadcasters didn't want to deal with subscriptions directly.
This policy would obviously reduce copyright infringement, but I believe it might have saved Shomi from being closed.   Redistributors need to make their streaming services more valuable to Canadians so more of us will be encouraged to subscribe, not continue to make these services more frustrating to use.

Canadian redistributors need to stop thinking of streaming services as a competitor to OTA and BDU broadcasting.  While there may be some overlap, they don't don't have the same potential customer base. I am no more likely go to backwards in time to subscribing to a BDU than I am to go backwards in time and ride a horse to my job in downtown Ottawa. Making streaming annoying in Canada won't drive me to a BDU, but it may eventually drive me to unauthorized sources.

So far it is two shows down, and it will be interesting to see how long the 4 remaining will last.

Today I watched the first episodes in the season for Arrow and Flash.  Before I left for my trip I purchased the first season of Supergirl in DVD form, binge watched it, and am now ready to watch season 2 of Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.

All 4 of these shows are from the DC comic universe, exist within the same Arrowverse, and will have a 4-way crossover this season.   It will be very frustrating if I am forced by the broadcaster to stop watching one or more of these series given their inter-relationship and the fact that there have been and will continue to be crossovers between the shows.

I am curious what alternative sources other Canadians have found for all 6 of these shows, as I'm skeptical I will make it through the entire seasons of any of them without needing to get a few episodes from elsewhere.