The Other Side of Fairplay Canada

By Sam Chilton

I hated highschool. So much so that there is no evidence of my existence in my senior yearbook, save for a sliver of the top of my head as I duck below a table to avoid a group photo. This sounds pretty melodramatic, and though my absence was mostly for kicks, it’s a good summation of my alienation as an awkward, pimply teenager wishing to be anywhere else.

Unsurprisingly, I spent a lot of time avoiding school, but I mostly stayed homed and kept to my own devices. The crux of my education became the plethora of music, films, documentaries, texts and e-books available through bit torrenting. I would not have had access to, or been able to afford all the art and informatory vessels that were so crucial to my understanding of the world at an early age (growing up in a lower middle-class family with Laissez-faire parents also factored into this equation). Limitless content, unfiltered, kept me impassioned and ennui-free as a teenager, inspiring me to create and share my music and writing freely. And though immediate, seemingly boundless content is easy to take for granted in 2018, I felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.

As such, the desire to scoop out my eyes with half eggshells was pretty strong when a media coalition including Rogers, Bell, and CBC proposed yet another plan to block Canadians’ access to piracy websites this February – the tone-deaf old order of media giants rearing their greedy mandibles, if you will. Fairplay Canada is the latest incarnation of an idea that seems to crop up as proposed legislation every couple of years under the guise of protecting content creators. There’s the obvious opposition arguments: Allowing top 1% media conglomerates a further monopoly, violation of the web’s founding doctrine as free and open, and the “wack-a-mole” phenomenon of taking down piratic sites — block one and another simply pops up. Most importantly, Fairplay would be calling the shots before a judge has the chance to intervene. The coalition is remarkably unpopular, seemingly destined to fail through democratic process. So what gives?

The concern is less Fairplay itself and piracy’s continuously awkward place in our culture, the way we still view these rather ingenious networks of digital buccaneers as a sort of vampirism, and the kind of demonizing that gets perpetuated by movements like the coalition in question. Piratic sites have the potential to be our digital libraries, run by the people, for the people – maybe even a relatively bias-free virtual Library of Congress (with more chaff to sift through, mind you, but hey, no bias means no à la carte).

Things inevitably get lost in translation, and sites like The Pirate Bay and ruTracker fill in the gaps by virtue of cataloguing anything and everything. A still young media giant like Netflix, which has more subscribers than most Cable TV networks, hosted just 43 movies pre-1970 and a paltry 25 made before 1950, as of September 2017. And? You don’t need to care about vintage film to see that selection is not determined by cultural relevance. It’s just another incarnation of big business deciding what you see and how you see it, neatly editing the fringes, in this case save for its succinct, by-the-books smattering of “classic” films.

Peer to peer sharing and seeding, as well as illegitimate streaming platforms have always offered more by cutting out the middle man, allowing consumers to share and evaluate content directly through one another. As for compensation, the legal purchasing of content is by no means going anywhere. If the vinyl resurgence has taught us anything, it’s that people are willing to pay for a package that immortalizes art that enhances their lives. Music might be the key example herein: The 21st-century prevalence of “leaking” has shown that it doesn’t really affect album sales, either, and in many cases, actually does the artist good. It’s all emblematic of an overhaul on the way we think about pirates, because they could very well be our librarians of the future.