Harry Hillman Chartrand, PhD

October 4, 2010

Compiler Press

Climate Gate involved hacking the records of one of the world’s leading ‘human’ climate change centres - located in Britain.  Credibility – rightly or wrongly – was lost.  So who do you trust if not impartial, evidence-driven physical scientists?  Well certainly not lawyers! 

Again it is in Britain that hacking has exposed the seamy side of a critical public policy issue.  This time it is copyright or more to the point what the Government of Canada in the preamble to Bill C-32 - the Copyright Modernization Act (CMA) - calls “current digital era copyright protection”.

In brief, just before the recent British election the Government of the day rushed through the Digital Economy Act (DEA).  Among other things it requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to reveal to copyright proprietors the name of any customer whose ISP address was allegedly used to illegally download copyrighted works.  This spawned, as in the U.S. after passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, a new breed of legal practioners – the copyright troll akin to ‘ambulance chaser’.

Acting on behalf of copyright proprietors, a British law firm called ACS Law sent out thousands of letters to alleged infringers threatening them with legal action unless they admitted their guilt and paid from £300 up.  It has been estimated that it would cost as much as £10,000 to fight such an allegation in court.  Many paid; no legal action was taken against those who did not.  Arguably this amounts to what Nate Anderson on October 3 in Wired Magazine called “legal blackmail”.  As an aside, ACS Law uses results of software developed by a ‘mysterious’ German firm called Guardaley which is the same firm that supplies results to members of the recently formed US Copyright Group and other American copyright trolls such as Righthaven LLC of Las Vegas. 

The internet community 4chan, in a hack attack called “Operation Payback”, shut down websites of the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America in the United States as well as ACS Law in Britain.  When, however, ACS Law re-launched it inadvertently exposed the server’s directory and 4chan promptly uploaded a 350MB archive of ACS Law’s emails and then posted them on the web.  These included names, addresses, credit card details and other private information of ISP customers.  In addition many alleged infringements involved porno movies whose titles are included in the hacked personal files of ISP clients.   True or false, for a teacher or many others such information publicly disclosed could be a career ender.  The emails also reveal the practices and potential profits of a copyright troll.  This has caused outrage in Britain.  

While the outcome of ‘Copygate’ remains unclear one conclusion is clear.  Adopting “current digital era copyright protection” creates a window of opportunity for the malpractice of what I call ‘private law’.   The price of justice, of proving one’s innocence, is so high most simply pay making a whole new legal practice profitable.

We live in a human environment composed of information much of which is subject to copyright protection.  Climate change in the knowledge-based economy is happening; it is human-made and in the U.S. and Britain it has become poisonously litigious.  The question therefore arises: Should Canada adopt “current digital era copyright protection”?

Vote NO on Bill C-32!