US firm runs mass copyright shakedown in Canada

When Canada’s new copyright rules went into effect in January, critics feared that someone would use them to run settlement extortion schemes of the sort that have long plagued the American legal system. Those fears have proved to be justified. This week, a second U.S. company has come into Canada, apparently using an automated process to blast thousands of settlement notices far and wide.

If you’re unfamiliar with the scheme, it works like this: under Canada’s new rules, a copyright owner who detects an unauthorized download can send a notice to the subscriber’s ISP, which is then obliged to notify the subscriber. The problem is that copyright owners can abuse the system by sending out notices that are actually threats, based on false information, and scare people into paying a settlement.

This has already happened once when a company called Rightscorp began making outlandish claims based on American law (for instance telling notice recipients that they faced $150,000 fines for downloading songs — even though the maximum fine in Canada is $5,000).

Now, a second group is trying its luck. This time, the culprit appears to be the porn industry working with an enforcement firm called CEG TEK. Lawyer Bram Abramson, who is counsel for a Canadian ISP, took to Twitter to flag what’s going on:

In other words, CEG TEK is using a bot to send out thousands of “notices” that are, in reality, shakedown letters. Recipients of such notices are typically invited to call a number where someone squeezes them to pay up what they can before something much worse happens to them (the enforcement agency and the copyright owner then divvy up the proceeds).

Law professor Michael Geist, who also reported on the story, observed that the latest notices aren’t as egregious as the previous Rightscorp batch. The CEG TEK notices at least claim to be based on Canadian law, even though they also misrepresent the damages at stake as well as other basic facts about the process.

But as Geist points out, they are still a gross abuse of the process, and also impose a financial burden on Canadian ISPs, who are obliged to process this flood of trumped up notices. Both Geist and Abramson recommend the Canadian government pass regulations to curb this sort of abuse, possibly by imposing a charge on those who send notices.

Some readers will point out that the letter recipients shouldn’t be infringing copyright in the first place, and they deserve what they get. The problem with this attitude, in my view, is that it encourages an abuse of the legal process (never a good thing), and undermines overall respect for copyright law. A better approach would be for copyright owners to follow the process in good faith, and save the big legal guns for repeat and flagrant offenders.

Canada cracks down on zero-rating in two net neutrality rulings

The list of countries that find zero-rating to be a violation of net neutrality just keeps on growing, with Canada the latest to crack down on the practice.

“Zero-rating” or “positive price discrimination” refers to carriers providing certain services or apps for free or at a cheaper rate than they charge for regular internet traffic. Many (including me) see this as a net neutrality violation, because it treats different services unequally and damages the ability of non-zero-rated services to find an audience.

It’s a much more subtle net neutrality violation than straight-out blocking or throttling certain services, though, which is why some – such as the European Commission – don’t tend to see it in that light.

Apparently, Canada does see zero-rating as a threat to the “open internet”. On Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued a decision against carriers [company]Bell Mobility[/company] and [company]Vidéotron[/company], which were exempting their own Bell Mobile TV and illico.tv mobile TV services from their regular data plans (for a small monthly fee of around $5) while counting traffic for rival services against those data caps. Video content is, of course, about as data-heavy as it gets.

Vidéotron has until the end of March to confirm that it has withdrawn its mobile TV app as it promised it would, and Bell has until April 29 to stop its violations. According to the CRTC, the result will be “an open and fair marketplace for mobile TV services, enabling innovation and choice for Canadians.”

Pro-net-neutrality organization OpenMedia.ca reacted with delight, saying the ruling “sets a precedent for mobile providers across Canada.” The group quoted telecoms researcher Ben Klass, who filed the original complaint over Bell’s behavior, as saying:

In a world where Bell could charge 800% more for competing services it seemed unlikely that innovation could thrive. It’s heartening to see the CRTC side with Canadians and strike down this unfair practice.

Over the last week, Dutch and Slovenian regulations have hammered carriers for zero-rating violations, although those cases involved the favored services of commercial partners such as [company]HBO[/company] and [company]Deezer[/company], rather than the carriers’ in-house efforts. Chile has also banned operators from offering services such as [company]Twitter[/company] and [company]Facebook[/company] for free, and Norway’s regulators have advised the same.

A study by bandwidth management firm Allot Communications last year found that half of mobile carriers around the world are now zero-rating certain traffic, most frequently Facebook’s. The practice is also key to developing-world schemes such as Facebook’s Internet.org – they’ve struck deals with carriers that see selected services offered for free, with the idea being that people will start paying for the wider web once they’ve seen what it has to offer.

Levitation program tracked file-sharing sites, Snowden doc shows

The Canadian spy agency CSE monitors activity across over 100 free file upload sites, a newly-revealed PowerPoint document from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s cache has shown.

The document describing CSE’s Levitation program was published on Wednesday by The Intercept, reporting alongside Canadian broadcaster CBC. Although Canada has long been known to be a member of the core Anglophone “Five Eyes” spying club, this is the first Snowden revelation putting it at the forefront of one of the Eyes’ mass surveillance programs.

Using an internet cable-tap program called Atomic Banjo, CSE’s agents were at the time of the presentation’s authoring collecting HTTP metadata for 102 cyberlocker sites, including Sendspace and Rapidshare, and tracking 10-15 million “events” each day to find “about 350 interesting download events per month.” And yes, this meant filtering out loads of TV shows and such.

According to the presentation, the technique yielded a “German hostage video” (the hostage was killed, according to The Intercept) and an “AQIM [Algerian al-Qaeda] hostage strategy”.

In total, there were 2,200 file addresses that effectively acted as traps once CSE had identified them. Once the agents have an IP address for someone downloading a suspect file, they then run a query on it through GCHQ’s Mutant Broth tool to see which ad cookies have been tracking them (insecure marketing technologies provide an easy vehicle for spying efforts), what their likely Facebook ID is, and so on.

SendSpace told CBC that no-one had permission to trawl its service for data, and internet policy lawyer Tamir Israel told the broadcaster that the program was potentially very intrusive, as CSE (known until last year as CSEC) could pick whichever documents it wanted.

Apple raises minimum app prices in Europe, UK, and Canada

As Apple promised earlier this week, minimum prices in the iOS app store have increased in Canada, the U.K. and European countries that use the euro.

The minimum app price is now €0.99 in the EU, £0.79 in the U.K, and $1.19 in Canada.

According to an email sent by [company]Apple[/company] to developers and obtained by Apple Insider, these changes were caused by “adjustments in value-added tax (VAT) and foreign exchange rates.” Sure, a change in EU tax policy that went on effect on January 1st requires companies to change how they collect VAT tax on digital goods (although the new rules were agreed to in 2008). But I suspect a bigger driving force behind this price bump is that the dollar is at a nine-year high against the euro.

Apple doesn’t set prices on the App Store, but instead allows its developers to pick from a range of pricing tiers.

The email from Apple mentioned that app prices will “decrease in Iceland and change in Russia.” Apple simply suspended its Russian online store — which sells hardware, not apps — in December as the ruble plunged against the dollar. It later came back online with significantly raised prices.

Yesterday, Apple bragged that it had paid out over $10 billion to developers in 2014. But in Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings call, CFO Luca Maestri warned that the strong dollar could affect Apple’s performance over the coming quarters as its products effectively become more expensive in non-U.S. markets.

“The U.S. dollar has strengthened quite significantly against most currencies in recent weeks,” Maestri said on October 20. “It is becoming a significant headwind in Q1.”

Rdio partners with Shaw to grow subscriber base in Canada

Streaming music service Rdio has teamed up with Canadian broadband provider Shaw to grow its subscriber base in the country, both companies announced Thursday. The partnership includes a strategic investment by Shaw as well as yet-unannounced “marketing, content and promotional” initiatives. Rdio recently struck a similar agreement with a big media group in Brazil, and teamed up with terrestrial radio network Cumulus in the U.S. last summer. Thursday’s release comes with the interesting tidbit that Canada is Rdio’s second-biggest market, with Brazil ranking third, and the company is apparently getting some traction in Australia and Mexico as well.