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House of Commons Ethics Committee Recommends Rejecting Bell Coalition Website Blocking Plan

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Thu, 2018/05/10 - 09:11

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has released its net neutrality report, strongly endorsing net neutrality safeguards and calling on the government to reject the Bell coalition’s website blocking plan should the CRTC approve it. I was the first witness to appear before the committee on the study, where I emphasized the need for stronger net neutrality enforcement, the risks associated with changing U.S. policy, and the concerns associated the Bell website blocking proposal (which at the time had only been leaked). The committee picked up on all those issues, recommending enshrining net neutrality in the Telecommunications Act, calling on the government to seek assurances from the U.S. that its policies will not undermine Canadian traffic, and encouraging the CRTC to more proactively ensure that ISPs are compliant with Canadian law.

The committee report also waded into the site blocking issue, calling on the government to reject it should it be approved by the CRTC. Recommendation #2:

That, in the event that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission supports FairPlay Canada’s application, the federal government consider using the authority provided under section 12 of the Telecommunications Act to ask the CRTC to reconsider its decision.

The committee asked Bell and Rogers about the site blocking proposal during their appearance. The companies argued that it did not implicate net neutrality, but the committee was unconvinced. The report states:

The Committee recognizes that it has received limited evidence on the Fair Play proposal and that the CRTC will decide on the application, after having considered all of the submissions it has received. However, the Committee is of the view that the proposal could impede the application of net neutrality in Canada, and that in their testimony, the ISPs did not present sufficient explanation as to why the existing process is inadequate or sufficient justification to support to application. The Committee also remains skeptical about the absence of judicial oversight in the Fair Play proposal and is of the view that maintaining such oversight is critical.

Therefore, the Committee is concerned that, in the event that the CRTC accepts FairPlay Canada’s application, net neutrality may be eroded in Canada by allowing Internet content blocking and censorship. These concepts are at odds with net neutrality, which ensures an open Internet.

The report, which received support from all political parties, then notes that the government has the power to ask the CRTC to vary, rescind, or refer back a decision. That power led to the recommendation that the government exercise that power should the CRTC approve the proposal. With all parties joining in a recommendation against the site blocking plan, the report represents a strong signal that the FairPlay coalition plan led by Bell does not have political support given that it raises freedom of expression, due process, and net neutrality concerns.

The post House of Commons Ethics Committee Recommends Rejecting Bell Coalition Website Blocking Plan appeared first on Michael Geist.

Bell Backroom Pressure: Internal Documents Reveal How a Brock University Executive Came to Provide Support for Website Blocking

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Wed, 2018/05/09 - 09:07

Among the thousands of interventions at the CRTC to the Bell coalition website blocking plan, one of the submissions that stands out comes from Brian Hutchings, Brock University’s Vice-President, Administration. The submission claims that “Brock ardently supports the FairPlay Canada coalition” adding that “we are committed to assist the members of the coalition and the CRTC in eliminating the theft of digital content.” The submission sparked an immediate campus backlash. The Brock University Faculty Association filed a submission with the CRTC noting:

we stand in opposition to the intervention by Vice President, Administration on behalf of Brock University. Vice-President Hutching’s intervention was undertaken without consultation with the wider Brock University community, including faculty, librarians, and Senate; therefore, his submission should not be seen as indicative of the views of Brock University as a whole.

Further, Brock University’s Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic wrote to the CRTC to remove any doubt that the submission did not represent the views of the university:

The submission of the Vice-President, Administration to the CRTC does not represent an official position or the totality of opinions at Brock University.

So how did the Vice-President, Academic come to submit to the CRTC and who did he consult? Given the role Bell played in the FairPlay coalition, it will not surprise to find that Bell Media was behind lobbying for the letter. According to documents obtained under provincial access to information laws, Mark Milliere, TSN’s Senior Vice President and General Manager (part of Bell Media) connected with Hutchings in early March with the assistance of Ryerson University professor Cheri Bradish, a former Brock professor.


Bradish email, obtained from Brock University under FIPPA


Milliere followed up a phone call with a letter to Hutchings, reminding him of TSN’s history of hiring Brock University grads and supporting its curriculum in asking for a letter of support to the CRTC:

Bell request email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Milliere attached a letter of support filed from Ryerson University and asked that a copy of the Brock letter on Brock letterhead be provided to Bell. The request points to a clear Bell strategy of obtaining support letters to shop around to other potential targets as the Ryerson letter was not public at the time and only filed nearly a week after the Hutchings letter.

On March 22nd, Milliere followed up with another email, asking whether Brock was able to write a support letter and inaccurately stating that the deadline for submissions was the next day.


Bell follow-up email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Hours later, Hutchings filed the submission with the CRTC. The access package suggests that there was no consultation within Brock or review by other parties. Milliere responded the following day with thanks, noting that “if you need anything from TSN, just ask.”


Bell thanks email, obtained under FIPPA from Brock University


Given its other astroturfing efforts with its own employees, the Bell backroom pressure on universities is not particularly surprising. However, the documents confirm that the source of the largely discredited submission was Bell outreach (notably, Bell’s contacts at Brock were so limited that introductions from another university were needed). Further, had Bell not given a false deadline date to spur action (the original Bell letter included the correct submission deadline), it is entirely possible that the submission would have come on the final day, thereby eliminating the opportunity for other Brock executives and faculty to correct the public record.

The pressure at Brock was presumably mirrored at other organizations, confirming yet again the the FairPlay “coalition” was a Bell-led initiative and raising the question of which supportive interventions were the direct result of Bell outreach to business partners, grant recipients, or others beholden to Canada’s largest communications company.

The post Bell Backroom Pressure: Internal Documents Reveal How a Brock University Executive Came to Provide Support for Website Blocking appeared first on Michael Geist.

Springer Nature Opens Up on Educational Publishing: “E-Piracy” Sites Do Not Replace Traditional Subscription Services, Business Risks Primarily Stem from Marketplace Changes

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Tue, 2018/05/08 - 11:07

Springer Nature, one of the world’s largest publishers of journals and electronic books has filed a prospectus for the purposes of an initial public offering. The prospectus is a fascinating read as it eschews the usual lobbying talking points in favour of legally required frank disclosure. For example, the document provides considerable insights into the continuing emergence of open access, noting that 27% of all research articles published by Springer Nature in 2017 was published on an open access basis.

The prospectus contains several discussions that are directly relevant to the Canadian copyright review. For example, there is no reference to Canada’s fair dealing, but it does point to a German law that features obvious similarities since it permits libraries to distribute journal articles and up to 10 percent of a work to users for non-commercial purposes. The prospectus also places the spotlight on changes in the education market that impact its business. Consistent with Canadian studies that do not emphasize copyright (B.C. Book Publishers, Association of Canadian Publishers), Springer Nature does not reference it within the educational publishing market either. Instead, it points to used textbook sales, rentals, parallel imports, government created materials, procurement processes, and local review processes as business risks. The company cites many markets (Spain, Poland, India, and South Africa among them), but nothing on Canada.

In addition to its educational publishing analysis, its discussion of “e-piracy” sites that post unauthorized copies of journal articles is particularly noteworthy. Sites such as SciHub have faced a steady stream of lawsuits and efforts to shut down a site that has posted millions of academic journal articles. The site is typically referred to as a “pirate site” and the Springer Nature prospectus identifies such as sites as a business risk. However, its disclosure on SciHub also reveals that the company does not believe that it has had a negative effect on subscription revenues, noting that the site operates in parallel with subscriptions, not as a substitute for them:

E-piracy websites typically allow users to access content through proxies and thereby bypass publishers’ paywalls. We believe that our subscription customers access SciHub in parallel, but not as a replacement to, our traditional subscription services. To our knowledge the availability of our content through these aggregators has not resulted in subscription terminations.

The company is careful to emphasize that this may change in the future and that it remains active in trying to shut the sites down (or to remove content with approximately two million takedown notices sent last year alone). Yet the express acknowledgement that it does not believe that e-piracy sites have resulted in lost subscriptions and that they operate in parallel to existing subscriptions confirms what many have long maintained, namely that claims about the impact of unauthorized or piracy sites are frequently exaggerated. Springer Nature leaves little doubt that it wants to stop these sites, but its admission on the current impact has obvious parallels with similar efforts such as the Bell coalition website blocking proposal, which has also faced criticism for attempts to link cord cutting with unauthorized streaming services.

The post Springer Nature Opens Up on Educational Publishing: “E-Piracy” Sites Do Not Replace Traditional Subscription Services, Business Risks Primarily Stem from Marketplace Changes appeared first on Michael Geist.

Canadian Publisher on the Term of Copyright: Life Plus 50 Years is “Already Too Long”

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Mon, 2018/05/07 - 10:45

Broadview Press, an independent Canadian publisher with hundreds of books in print, has called on the government to ensure that there is no extension from the current term of life of the author plus 50 years. I previously noted the Broadview Press submission in a post on the tiny impact of reduced royalties from Access Copyright. The submission also focuses on copyright term:

Another vitally important copyright issue that has been on the table in recent TTP and NAFTA trade negotiations is the international pressure Canada is faced with to increase the length of the copyright term from 50 years after the death of the author (already too long, in our opinion) to a full 70 years after the death of the author, thereby preventing for an additional generation the publication of competing editions of literary classics—editions that can often be of immense cultural and pedagogical value.

Broadview Press recommends “Canada protect or reduce the length of copyright term to be no more than “life of the author plus 50 years.” It points with approval to the Australian Productivity Commission’s report on reforming Australian intellectual property laws, noting:

An international reference you may wish to consult regarding this matter is the December 2016 report from the Australian Productivity Commission on Reforming Australia’s intellectual property arrangements. This report argues that the life+70 years term is too long and urges the Australian government to reduce it to 50 years or less in the IP review that is currently underway.

The Australian report provides a helpful review of the implications of copyright terms, reaching the following finding:

The scope and term of copyright protection in Australia has expanded over time, often with no transparent evidence-based analysis, and is now skewed too far in favour of copyright holders. While a single optimal copyright term is arguably elusive, it is likely to be considerably less than 70 years after death.

Canada has thus far resisted extending the term of copyright beyond the Berne Convention standard of life of the author plus 50 years. In fact, Canada successfully argued for the suspension of an extension in the TPP last year, recognizing the enormous cost that a term extension would impose on access to Canadian culture and to education, which relies heavily on public domain works.

The post Canadian Publisher on the Term of Copyright: Life Plus 50 Years is “Already Too Long” appeared first on Michael Geist.

World’s Worst Wireless Pricing?: Report Finds Canadian Wireless Broadband Pricing Offers Least Bang for the Buck in Developed World

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Fri, 2018/05/04 - 09:10

The sad state of Canadian wireless pricing is old news for consumers and the government, but a new report graphically demonstrates how Canadians face some of the least competitive pricing in the developed world. The Rewheel study measured pricing in EU and OECD markets by examining how many gigabytes of 4G wireless data consumers get for the equivalent of 30 euros. This chart from Rewheel says it all:


Rewheel Research – The state of 4G pricing ̶ 1H2018 http://research.rewheel.fi/downloads/The_state_of_4G_pricing_DFMonitor_9th_release_1H2018_PUBLIC.pdf


Canada is at the far left of the chart with consumers getting less for their money than anyone else. While many countries offer unlimited mobile data at that price, the report says Canadian carriers offer a measly 2 GB. The smartphone data plans aren’t much better, with nearly all countries offering better deals and many shifting to unlimited data at that price.


Rewheel research – The state of 4G pricing ̶ 1H2018 http://research.rewheel.fi/downloads/The_state_of_4G_pricing_DFMonitor_9th_release_1H2018_PUBLIC.pdf


While it falls outside of the Rewheel study, a quick review of the major carriers reveals that some offers can’t be purchased in Canada at any price as no one offers unlimited mobile data. Rogers smartphone plans in Ontario max out at 80 GB of data at a cost of $405 per month or 263 euros (consumers in the UK can get 100 GB for 30 euros).




Meanwhile, Bell’s mobile broadband service tops out at 50 GB of data for $150. At $3 for each additional GB, it would cost $300 for 100 GB (France and New Zealand have plans for 30 euros for 100 GB) and $1500 for 500 GB (Israel has 500 GB for 30 euros).




In addition to outrageously expensive wireless data plans, Canadians also face huge overage charges (more than a billion dollars per year generated in the wireless overage cash grab) and steadily increasing roaming charges. Yet when it came to introducing greater resale competition, the CRTC rejected new measures that it admitted could result in some improvement to affordability.

The post World’s Worst Wireless Pricing?: Report Finds Canadian Wireless Broadband Pricing Offers Least Bang for the Buck in Developed World appeared first on Michael Geist.

Facebook Canada’s Hard Questions Series Turns to Privacy

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Thu, 2018/05/03 - 09:06

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to sit down with Rob Sherman, Facebook’s Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, for a discussion co-hosted by the Centre for Law, Technology and Society on the many privacy issues facing the company. The conversation, part of Facebook Canada’s hard questions series, touched on applying Canadian privacy law, Facebook’s terms of use, and the desire for greater control over the use of personal data. The full discussion is embedded below.

The post Facebook Canada’s Hard Questions Series Turns to Privacy appeared first on Michael Geist.

good news

Fair Duty by Meera Nair - Mon, 2018/04/23 - 08:29

Today marks World Book and Copyright Day. The United Nations explains the choice of date as “a symbolic date for world literature,” in part because 23 April 1616 marked the deaths of Miguel de Cervantes, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and William Shakespeare. The connection between title and titans seem at best, tenuous — World Writers Day might have been better? — but we may as well take the opportunity to celebrate the successes of Canadian writers and publishers.

In The Daily, issued by Statistics Canada on 23 March 2018, data for 2016 reveals that “The Canadian book publishers industry generated operating revenue of $1.6 billion in 2016, down 0.6% compared with 2014.”

That may not seem like cause for celebration. But it is easily good news, when placed in context: 2016 was a difficult year for the industry as a whole. In an article from Publisher’s Weekly, dated to 25 August 2017, Jim Milliot wr0te: “Although total revenue of the world’s 50 largest book publishers topped $50 billion in 2016, last year was not an easy one for global publishing giants. Less than half of the top 50 publishers posted revenue gains in 2016, with the balance reporting sales declines.”

In comparison then, the next sentence from Statistics Canada is even more gratifying: “Operating expenses decreased 1.4% to $1.5 billion, resulting in an operating profit margin of 10.2%.” In light of global trends, to have any profit margin at all may claim congratulations to that sector.

Reading further, the data continues on a positive theme:

Total sales amounted to $1.5 billion in 2016. Of total sales, Canadian book sales increased 0.5% from 2014 to $1.4 billion in 2016, while all other sales declined 7.9% to $108 million. Of the $1.4 billion in Canadian book sales generated in 2016, 53.8% was attributable to foreign controlled firms, while 46.2% was generated by Canadian controlled firms. Domestic sales accounted for 81.0% of Canadian book sales, while export sales made up the remaining 19.0%. Exports sales increased 11.8% in 2016 to $260.5 million. … Canadian authors accounted for 51.1% of total sales in 2016, up from 48.9% in 2014.

So Canadian book sales increased, under near parity of influence between publishing firms under foreign control and Canadian control. Given that through most of Canada’s existence, our reading and book-selling landscape was overwhelmingly dominated by foreign publishers and printers, this is good news indeed. Moreover, while only 19% of Canadian book sales went to export markets, the fact that those sales increased by nearly 12 % in the space of two years is positively noteworthy. Canadians (both writers and publishers) are making their mark on this world.

Yet, despite evidence of a resilient industry and successful writers, there are many who will continue to insist that because of fair dealing, the Canadian writing enterprise is suffering—that because Canadian educators may legitimately use some portions of published material without authorization, returns to Canadian publishers are compromised, which will lead to a decline in writing in Canada.

As I wrote in my last post, drawing from the work of one of Canada’s most respected authorities on Canadian Literature — Arrival: the Story of CanLit by Nick Mount — Canadian content is simply not being prescribed for curriculum as it used to be. A point I did not emphasize then, but bears mentioning now, is Mount’s enthusiasm regarding the proliferation of writers and books in Canada:

The country is producing many more writers and many more books than ever before, books by and about many different kinds of Canadians than ever before. It also has more readers—they’re just spread out now, among so many books, and so many more ways to read, that it’s hard to see them all (p.293).

According to Statistics Canada, domestic sales have declined by 1.9% since 2014. However, educational titles increased by 4.9%.  This is intriguing, given the publishing industry’s own investigation concerning the selection of resources for use in Canadian classrooms. A report titled Digital Trends and Initiatives in Education—The Changing Landscape for Canadian Content (produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers and released in March 2017) provides a comprehensive examination of the education sector’s approach to choosing resources, to the conclusion that openly licensed content has become a notable component of resources in both the post-secondary and K-12 sectors (p.24).

Michael Geist covered the report in some detail and observes: “… despite the ACP’s insistence in lobbying efforts that copyright is at the heart of publisher concerns, copyright and fair dealing are limited to a single reference with no discussion or analysis. … The report provides several recommendations, none of which involve copyright reform.”

The report’s authors express concern for: (i) the reduction in prescription of Canadian content in the K-12 sector; and (ii) the lack of guidance for teachers for evaluation of free or openly licensed content. They write:

… without clear direction, teachers may continue to use material that has not been appropriately vetted for use in an educational setting. This belief is not intended to diminish the role teachers play in selecting the right content for their students, but rather serves to highlight the fact that teachers do not all have the time nor the expertise to thoroughly evaluate or authenticate every piece of content accessed by themselves or their students (p.4).

I cannot speak to that concern—it is a matter of discussion best left to teachers. The report’s authors press the need for using good Canadian content in our schools–this is perhaps a good time to ask again, What is Canadian Content? In any case, it remains that in the hands of one who has diligently studied/explored a subject, and whose passion to communicate is evident, even a Twitter thread can form educational content. This past Sunday’s reading included a 12-part lesson by Joanne Hammond, describing the events leading to the establishment of reserves in British Columbia, replete with archival maps and images.

To return to the celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, though it is repetition, Mount deserves to have the last word: “The country is producing many more writers and many more books than ever before.”

Routing Detours: Can We Avoid Nation-State Surveillance?

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/08/30 - 18:44
Since 2013, Brazil has taken significant steps to build out their networking infrastructure to thwart nation-state mass surveillance.  For example, the country is deploying a 3,500-mile fiber cable from Fortaleza, Brazil to Portugal; they’ve switched their government email system from Microsoft Outlook to a state-built system called Expresso; and they now have the largest IXP […]

Differential Privacy is Vulnerable to Correlated Data — Introducing Dependent Differential Privacy

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/26 - 09:57
[This post is joint work with Princeton graduate student Changchang Liu and IBM researcher Supriyo Chakraborty. See our paper for full details. — Prateek Mittal ] The tussle between data utility and data privacy Information sharing is important for realizing the vision of a data-driven customization of our environment. Data that were earlier locked up […]

Language necessarily contains human biases, and so will machines trained on language corpora

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/24 - 16:32
I have a new draft paper with Aylin Caliskan-Islam and Joanna Bryson titled Semantics derived automatically from language corpora necessarily contain human biases. We show empirically that natural language necessarily contains human biases, and the paradigm of training machine learning on language corpora means that AI will inevitably imbibe these biases as well. Specifically, we look at […]

Security against Election Hacking – Part 2: Cyberoffense is not the best cyberdefense!

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/08/18 - 09:00
State and county election officials across the country employ thousands of computers in election administration, most of them are connected (from time to time) to the internet (or exchange data cartridges with machines that are connected).  In my previous post I explained how we must audit elections independently of the computers, so we can trust the […]

Security against Election Hacking – Part 1: Software Independence

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/17 - 09:27
There’s been a lot of discussion of whether the November 2016 U.S. election can be hacked.  Should the U.S. Government designate all the states’ and counties’ election computers as “critical cyber infrastructure” and prioritize the “cyberdefense” of these systems?  Will it make any difference to activate those buzzwords with less than 3 months until the […]

Can Facebook really make ads unblockable?

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/08/11 - 17:18
[This is a joint post with Grant Storey, a Princeton undergraduate who is working with me on a tool to help users understand Facebook’s targeted advertising.] Facebook announced two days ago that it would make its ads indistinguishable from regular posts, and hence impossible to block. But within hours, the developers of Adblock Plus released an […]

The workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 09:57
From online advertising to Uber to predictive policing, algorithmic systems powered by personal data affect more and more of our lives. As our society begins to grapple with the consequences of this shift, empirical investigation of these systems has proved vital to understand the potential for discrimination, privacy breaches, and vulnerability to manipulation. This emerging […]

A response to the National Association of Secretaries of State

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/08/09 - 08:11
Election administration in the United States is largely managed state-by-state, with a small amount of Federal involvement. This generally means that each state’s chief election official is that state’s Secretary of State. Their umbrella organization, the National Association of Secretaries of State, consequently has a lot of involvement in voting issues, and recently issued a […]

Supplement for Revealing Algorithmic Rankers (Table 1)

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/05 - 05:35
Table 1: A ranking of Computer Science departments per csrankings.org, with additional attributes from the NRC assessment dataset. Here, the average count computes the geometric mean of the adjusted number of publications in each area by institution, faculty is the number of faculty in the department, pubs is the average number of publications per faculty […]

Revealing Algorithmic Rankers

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/05 - 05:35
By Julia Stoyanovich (Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Drexel University) and Ellen P. Goodman (Professor, Rutgers Law School) ProPublica’s story on “machine bias” in an algorithm used for sentencing defendants amplified calls to make algorithms more transparent and accountable. It has never been more clear that algorithms are political (Gillespie) and embody contested choices (Crawford), […]

Election security as a national security issue

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/03 - 13:11
We recently learned that Russian state actors may have been responsible for the DNC emails recently leaked to Wikileaks. Earlier this spring, once they became aware of the hack, the DNC hired Crowdstrike, an incident response firm. The New York Times reports: Preliminary conclusions were discussed last week at a weekly cyberintelligence meeting for senior officials. […]

Brexit Exposes Old and Deepening Data Divide between EU and UK

Freedom to Tinker - Mon, 2016/07/25 - 10:45
After the Brexit vote, politicians, businesses and citizens are all wondering what’s next. In general, legal uncertainty permeates Brexit, but in the world of bits and bytes, Brussels and London have in fact been on a collision course at least since the 90s. The new British prime minister, Theresa May, has been personally responsible for […]

Pokémon Go and The Law: Privacy, Intellectual Property, and Other Legal Concerns

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 10:59
Pokémon Go made 22-year-old Kyrie Tompkins fall and twist her ankle. “[The game]  vibrated to let me know there was something nearby and I looked up and just fell in a hole,” she told local news outlet WHEC 10. So far, no one has sued Niantic or The Pokémon Company for injuries suffered while playing […]
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