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.

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