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CIRA Launches New Round of Funding For Community Investment Program

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Mon, 2015/02/09 - 11:28

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority has launched another round of its Community Investment Program (I am on the CIRA board and chair the committee that reviews funding applications).  Last year, the CIP allocated over $1 million in funding toward 29 different proposals that included support for infrastructure, new online services, research initiatives, and digital literacy programs. Those projects are still ongoing but that has not stopped CIRA from opening the door to a new round of funding. The application system is now open with applications accepted until March 6, 2015. Apply today!

The post CIRA Launches New Round of Funding For Community Investment Program appeared first on Michael Geist.

CRTC Says No To Internet Fast and Slow Lanes

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Mon, 2015/02/09 - 11:26

Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 31, 2015 as CRTC Says No Internet Fast and Slow Lanes

With the United States embroiled in a heated battle over net neutrality – millions have written to the U.S. regulator to support rules to prohibit Internet providers from creating fast lanes and slow lanes that would treat similar content in different ways – observers might want to take a closer look at how Canada has emerged as a leader in the area.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission established net neutrality rules (referred to as Internet traffic management practices) in 2009, relying on bedrock principles that prohibit carriers from granting themselves undue preferences or from interfering with content. The rules share many similarities with those being debated in the U.S., yet the Canadian experience illustrates that they can be used to curtail unfair practices without bringing the Internet to a halt.

The most recent application of the Canadian rules came last week, with the CRTC issuing a landmark decision on the legality of mobile television services offered by Bell and Videotron. In a classic David vs. Goliath showdown, the complaint was filed by Ben Klass, a University of Manitoba graduate student, who noted that Bell offers a $5 per month mobile TV service that allows users to watch dozens of Bell-owned or licensed television channels for ten hours without affecting their data cap.

By comparison, users accessing the same online video through a third-party service such as Netflix or YouTube would be on the hook for a far more expensive data plan since all of the data usage would count against their monthly cap. That approach appeared to grant Bell an unfair advantage over the competitor video services (Videotron was later added to the case based on similar concerns).

Bell raised several arguments in response, claiming that the mobile television services were subject broadcast regulation (not telecom regulation) and that, in any event, the offering was good for consumers and should be encouraged.

The CRTC ruled that mobile television services effectively invoke both broadcast and telecom regulation, since a data connection is required to access the service. Indeed, it agreed with Klass that “from a subscriber’s perspective, the mobile TV services are accessed and delivered under conditions that are substantially similar to those of other Internet-originated telecommunications services.”

Given the application of telecom regulation, the Commission examined whether the Bell and Videotron approach violated the rules that prohibit carriers from granting themselves an undue preference or created an unreasonable disadvantage for competitors. It concluded that it did, noting that the services “may end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.” In light of that finding, the CRTC ordered Bell and Videotron to eliminate the unlawful practice by the spring.

The decision was clearly grounded with net neutrality principles in mind. CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, speaking prior to the release of the decision, stated that there would be “no fast and slow lanes”, adding that “at its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron. It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice.”

Yet despite the endorsement of the principles of net neutrality, the decision did not apply the 2009 rules, which were viewed as inapplicable. Instead, the Commission went back to first principles to conclude that the service was simply an undue preference.

That points to an evolving net neutrality framework in Canada that includes analysis of both the net neutrality rules and the principles of undue preference. The combination leaves Canada with an even stronger net neutrality framework that better safeguards new innovative services and that will leave U.S. net neutrality advocates looking north with envy.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post CRTC Says No To Internet Fast and Slow Lanes appeared first on Michael Geist.

In Defence of the CRTC’s Super Bowl Advertising Ruling

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Fri, 2015/02/06 - 11:21

Last week’s CRTC decision to ban simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl broadcast starting in 2017 has generated mounting criticism in recent days. While analysts initially noted that the lost revenue for Bell Media would not be material (a prediction borne out by a quarterly conference call where the decision was not raised by anyone), anger over the decision has continued to grow. Nothing compares with Kevin O’Leary, a Bell Media commentator, ranting against the decision on Bell-owned BNN as he repeatedly calls the CRTC “insane” and laments lost foreign investment into a sector that still has Canadian ownership requirements. However, with Bell seeking private meetings with CRTC Commissioners to discuss the decision and more serious critiques from CMPA’s Michael Hennessy and Cartt.ca’s Greg O’Brien, the decision has clearly left many unhappy.

If the critics are right, the CRTC decision is the “beginning of the end of the system”, erodes the value of rights, and will lead to job losses and less Canadian content. It is undoubtedly true that changes are coming to the Canadian broadcasting system, but this simsub decision is at best a small part of the reason. The post raises six points in response to the decision and the critics.

First, this decision should not come as a surprise. The CRTC telegraphed the outcome months ago when it released a working document for discussion in advance of the TalkTV hearings. The document identified two options on simultaneous substitution: total elimination or removal for live event programming such as the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and creator groups argued against the complete removal of simultaneous substitution and the Commission went with a slimmed down version of its second option.

Second, the suggestions that the removal of simultaneous substitution eradicates rights or eliminates the ability of a Canadian broadcaster to air their own commercials is at odds with the experience of most other major sporting events. The Stanley Cup finals, the World Series, the Olympics, and World Cup are just some of the major events where Canadians have a choice between a Canadian and U.S. feed. Canadians often opt for the Canadian version, perhaps because they like the commentators or the Canadian-oriented coverage. No one suggests that the Canadian availability of the Stanley Cup finals on NBC or the World Series on Fox (Sportsnet uses the international feed) eradicates rights or eliminates the ability for a Canadian broadcaster to successfully air the same event.

With the elimination of simultaneous substitution, Canadians will have a choice between the U.S. feed and a Canadian feed. If the two are identical, many may opt for the U.S. feed to experience the commercials. If Bell Media uses the opportunity to compete with local content (there were two Canadian players in this week’s Super Bowl and at least two former CFL players), many may prefer the Canadian feed (provide different commentators during the years that CBS broadcasts the game with Phil Simms and many will make the switch).

Third, it is surprising to see advocates of the Canadian broadcast system argue that YouTube provides a viable substitute for those seeking access to the missing U.S. content. The commercials are available online, but as the CRTC rightly notes, their inclusion in the broadcast is often part of the experience. This is more than just a minor inconvenience. For some, it is part of the experience that is missed in Canada (more than half of U.S. viewers watch commercials as much as the game). For example, the PSA on domestic abuse broadcast in the U.S. during this year’s Super Bowl offered an important education opportunity that was absent in Canada.

Fourth, this is not the beginning of the end of simultaneous substitution. The beginning of the end of simultaneous substitution started years ago. The growth of specialty channels, which now represent a far bigger slice of the broadcasting revenue pie than conventional channels, heralded the decreasing importance of simultaneous substitution with fewer programs substituted and subscription revenue surpassing conventional television advertising revenue. Moreover, consumers gaining increasingly control over what they watch and when they watch it contribute to its declining importance. Recording television shows or watching them on demand eliminates the simultaneous substitution issue. Watching streamed version of the shows directly from broadcasters or through services like Netflix does the same.

I argued for the elimination of simultaneous substitution in this December 2013 piece, noting that the policy trades additional revenue for loss of control over the Canadian programming schedule and turns the Canadian system into a country-wide U.S. affiliate with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the rights to non-Canadian programming. The CRTC recognized that eliminating simultaneous substitution altogether would still create a shock to the system. Limiting the elimination to the Super Bowl may be incoherent policy (ie. why just the Super Bowl), but it has the practical benefit of starting to move the industry off the addiction to U.S. programming and toward competition rather than regulatory protection.

Fifth, the arguments over lost jobs or less content point to the need for changes to the financing of Canadian programming, not retention of problematic policies. For broadcasters, there are clearly potential short term losses, however, revenues in the television broadcast system are over $6 billion. The CRTC estimates the value of simultaneous substitution at $250 million. That is not an insignificant hit, but the cost of U.S. programming may decline as a result (being worth less to Canadian broadcasters) and broadcasters will be encouraged to compete more effectively with original content.

From the creator perspective, the success of broadcasters and broadcast distributors is still viewed as the prime source of funds for Canadian content creation. This leads creator groups to argue against almost anything that might lead to declining broadcaster revenue, regardless of the wider implications. Moreover, it means that success is often measured by obtaining funding, rather than other potential metrics such as viewers or foreign distribution. As an industry beholden to regulations, it is unsurprising that many fear change.

Yet imposing old regulations on new, innovative services will not stop the broader societal and technological shifts in viewing habits. It is up to the industry to shift away from reliance on regulatory support. Further, the reality is that taxpayers – not broadcasters and broadcast distributors – still represent the largest source of financing in Canada. The CMPA’s annual report states that financing of television production came from the following sources:

  • Private broadcaster licence fees – 20%
  • Public broadcaster licence fees – 11%
  • Federal tax credits – 10%
  • Provincial tax credits – 18%
  • Canadian distributor – 11%
  • Foreign – 8%
  • Canada Media Fund – 13%
  • Other public – 1%
  • Other private – 8%

The public portion of this: public broadcaster licence fees (11%), federal and provincial tax credits (28%), Canada Media Fund (6.5% federal contribution), and other public (1%). The total is 46.5%, slightly more than the Canadian private contribution (45.5%).

Looking ahead, the private broadcaster portion may well decline. Arguments to shift the burden to Internet providers or companies like Netflix are non-starters. If eliminating simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl leads to greater attention to competing in the global market, that is an outcome that should be welcomed, not rejected.

Sixth, the CRTC is doing exactly what it said it would: “placing Canadians at the centre of the communication system.” The criticism over the decision boils down to broadcasters and creator groups arguing that Canadians should not be able to see what they want during the broadcast because doing so hurts their bottom lines. That is not placing Canadians at the centre of the broadcast system, which the CRTC has tried to do with its decision on Super Bowl broadcasts.

The post In Defence of the CRTC’s Super Bowl Advertising Ruling appeared first on Michael Geist.

No future for you: cultural institutions can’t afford to play along with pointy-headed bosses


My new Guardian column, Go digital by all means, but don't bring the venture capitalists in to do it, is an open letter to the poor bastards who run public institutions, asking them to hold firm on delivering public value and not falling into the trap of running public services "like a business."

When you let regulators and politicians bully you into excluding the public from their own institutions, alienating the public that you need on your side to stave off the next round of cuts -- and the next.

In the story of market-driven public institutions, it’s we, the public, who are the angel investors. We paid to keep the archives growing, to put a roof over the museum, to amass and catalogue all of our nation’s cultural treasures (and the treasures of many other nations). The internet now makes it possible for those institutions to reach wider audiences than ever before, at lower costs than ever before – once their collections are digitised. When Siemens or another big company comes along to digitise our investments, they are the VCs putting in late-stage capital after we’ve borne all the risks, sometimes for centuries. If our management team – led by David Cameron, the self-styled MD of UK plc – offers these investor-come-latelies the lion’s share of the equity (that is, access to those treasures) for their paltry, late-stage capital, then he is in gross dereliction of his duty to us, the shareholders.

But of course, this is a stupid story. We don’t invest in public service institutions because we want them to be profitable. We invest in them because we want them to be good. Galleries, museums, archives and libraries tell us who we are. Schools and hospitals tend our minds and bodies. They are not businesses. We are not shareholders.

We have private archives, private schools, private healthcare, and private libraries. They cream off the easiest, most profitable, least onerous part of the public service remit. As austerity tightens and market logic crushes our institutions, many have become private/public hybrids, charging for some of their services, or selling off some of their treasures, or forcing the public to fit within the metrics demanded by the zealots of UK plc.

This is suicide. There is no amount of capitulation that will save your institution. If your archive charges the public to access its own memories, who will argue to keep it funded when the next round of cuts comes along? People who can’t afford to pay for your archive won’t stand up for it. People who can afford to pay for archival services already have private firms to serve them – why would they vote for their tax money to support another for-pay service?

Go digital by all means, but don't bring the venture capitalists in to do it

(Image: Villa A - the archive, TheGuyCalledDennis, CC-BY)

archives,libraries,education,neoliberalism,class war,politics,

Reports Indicate Canada Has Caved on Copyright Term Extension in TPP Talks

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Wed, 2015/02/04 - 10:48

Last month, there were several Canadian media reports on how the work of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had entered the public domain. While this was oddly described as a “copyright quirk”, it was no quirk. The term of copyright in Canada is presently life of the author plus an additional 50 years, a term that meets the international standard set by the Berne Convention. The issue of extending the term of copyright was discussed during the 2009 national copyright consultation, but the government wisely decided against it. Further, the European Union initially demanded that Canada extend the term of copyright in the Canada – EU Trade Agreement, but that too was effectively rebuffed.

If new reports out of Japan are correct, however, Canada may have caved to U.S. pressure to extend copyright term. The U.S. extended its term to life plus 70 years in 1998 in response to demands from the Disney Corporation (Mickey was headed to the public domain) and has since pressured other countries to match. NHK reports that a deal on copyright term has been reached within the TPP with countries agreeing to a life plus 70 term. Alongside Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam (the TPP countries that adhere to the Berne standard), it appears that Canada has dropped its opposition to the change.

From a policy perspective, there is no credible evidence that this will do anything other than leave Canadians with 20 years of no new works entering the public domain. Indeed, many economists have examined the issue and concluded that extending the term unsurprisingly does not create an additional incentive for new creativity. Moreover, studies in other countries that have extended term have concluded that it ultimately costs consumers millions of dollars in additional royalties, most of which are sent out of the country.

While the Canadian decision to cave to the U.S. on copyright is disappointing, it should be noted that there are reports that Canada may still find itself outside the TPP altogether. Recent reports indicate that Canada will be required to make significant agricultural concessions (ie. changes to supply management) as part of the agreement. Japan and the U.S. have been actively working on market access issues, but Canadian negotiations have stalled as they apparently wait for the U.S. and Japan to resolve their differences. With a federal election set for later this year, the government may prefer holding off on major changes and sit out the initial TPP deal.  Regardless, if the Japanese reports are true, copyright term will not be one of the issues that holds up the TPP with Canada one of several countries set to cave to U.S. demands.

The post Reports Indicate Canada Has Caved on Copyright Term Extension in TPP Talks appeared first on Michael Geist.

DRM-free audiobook of Eastern Standard Tribe

Blackstone audio has produced a professional, DRM-free audiobook of my 2003 novel EST, a novel about jet-lag, conspiracies, management consultants, crypto-contracts and P2P that William Gibson called "Utterly contemporary and deeply peculiar -- a hard combination to beat (or, these days, to find)"

Warren Ellis called it "just far enough ahead of the game to give you that authentic chill of the future, and close enough to home for us to know that he’s talking about where we live as well as where we're going to live; a connected world full of disconnected people. One of whom is about to lobotomise himself through the nostril with a pencil. Funny as hell and sharp as steel."

As with my other books, Audible refuses to carry this title because I won't allow them to use DRM on it. You can get it at Downpour, where all audiobooks are DRM-free. I'd really appreciate it if you'd share this with your audiobook-loving friends and encourage them to vote with their wallets for businesses that let artists choose whether their works should be locked down with DRM.

The Canadian Privacy and Civil Liberties Punch in the Gut (or Why CSE/CSIS Oversight is Not Enough)

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Tue, 2015/02/03 - 17:09

As a lifelong Seattle Seahawks fan, this past Sunday’s Super Bowl – with the Hawks a yard away from winning their second straight championship only to give up a late interception – felt like a punch in the gut. Nearly two days later, I’m still trying to catch my breath. The end to Super Bowl 49 was the actually second time in the week that I was left feeling shocked and speechless. Throughout the week, the combination of Snowden revelations regarding Canada’s role in the daily tracking the Internet activities of millions and the introduction of Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation, left me similarly grappling to make sense of the swirling developments.

It would appear that the immediate response from many, particularly the opposition parties, has centered on the need for improved accountability and oversight. There is no doubt that the failure to address Canada’s weak oversight system of surveillance and intelligence activities is a major flaw (particularly since oversight was actually reduced in 2012).  For a government that introduced the Federal Accountability Act as its very first piece of legislation (and supported more oversight when in opposition) to now dismiss oversight as “red tape” is simply shameful. Better oversight and accountability should be a proverbial “no-brainer”: it bolsters public confidence and, as demonstrated elsewhere, need not undermine security-related operations.

Yet the problem with oversight and accountability as the primary focus is that it leaves the substantive law (in the case of CSE Internet surveillance) or proposed law (as in the case of C-51) largely unaddressed. If we fail to examine the shortcomings within the current law or within Bill C-51, no amount of accountability, oversight, or review will restore the loss of privacy and civil liberties.

First, consider the Snowden revelations that the CSE has been the lead on a surveillance initiative that gathers as many as 15 million uploads and downloads per day from a wide range of hosting sites that even appear to include the Internet Archive. The goal is reputed to be to target terrorist propaganda and training materials and identify who is uploading or downloading the materials. The leaked information shows how once a downloader is identified, intelligence agencies use other databases (including databases on billions of website cookies) to track the specific individual and their Internet use within hours of identified download.

The Levitation program, which removes any doubt about Canada’s role in global Internet surveillance, highlights how seemingly all Internet activity is now tracked by signals intelligence agencies. Note that the sites that host the downloads do not hand over their usage logs. Rather, intelligence agencies are able to track who visits the sites and what they do from the outside. That confirms a massive surveillance architecture of Internet traffic operating on a global scale. Is improved oversight in Canada alone going to change this dynamic that crosses borders and surveillance agencies?  It is hard to see how it would.

Moreover, these programs point to the fundamental flaw in Canadian law, where Canadians are re-assured that CSE does not – legally cannot – target Canadians. However, mass surveillance of this nature does not distinguish between nationalities. Mass surveillance of a hundred million downloads every week by definition targets Canadians alongside Internet users from every corner of the globe. To argue that Canadians are not specifically targeted when it is obvious that the personal information of Canadians is indistinguishable from everyone else’s data at the time of collection, is to engage in meaningless distinctions that only succeed in demonstrating the weakness of Canadian law.  Better oversight of CSE is needed, but so too is a better law governing CSE activities.

Second, Bill C-51 is a problem not only because it fails to address longstanding shortcomings in oversight and accountability over CSIS. It is a problem because there are substantive provisions that should leave anyone concerned with privacy and civil liberties breathless (Craig Forcese has begun to identify them).

For example, the new CSIS disruption warrants are remarkably broad, providing legal power to effectively ignore any law (domestic or otherwise) and do whatever it deems is needed. It shocks to see the government openly empowering CSIS to break the law with few limitations or restrictions. While this is a warrant (therefore a judge must approve), legally granting the right to ignore the law is enormously problematic. Further, the power applies in far more than just terrorist situations.

In fact, the broad approach extends to other areas as well. The expanded information sharing rules cover:

(a) interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada;
(b) changing or unduly influencing a government in Canada by force or unlawful means;
(c) espionage, sabotage or covert foreign-influenced activities;
(d) terrorism;
(e) proliferation of nuclear, chemical, radiological or biological weapons;
(f) interference with critical infrastructure;
(g) interference with the global information infrastructure, as defined in section 273.61 of the National Defence Act;
(h) an activity that causes serious harm to a person or their property because of that person’s association with Canada; and
(i) an activity that takes place in Canada and undermines the security of another state.
For greater certainty, it does not include lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression.

Terrorism is enumerated, but “interference with the capability of the Government of Canada” in relation to numerous activities is exceptionally broad. Moreover, the bill speaks to “install, maintain or remove any thing”, pointing to the power to install malware or other computer harms on personal computers or devices. By opening the door to do any other thing, it likely also includes the power to interfere with routine use of encryption, which is increasingly standard for many Canadians.

There are many other provisions that require detailed study, among them the potential takedown of websites or online content if hosted in Canada, expanded promoting terrorism provisions (a scenario released by the government states that posting a Youtube video with the words “Attack Canada” at the end would now constitute a criminal act), and the broad information sharing provisions that the government-appointed Privacy Commissioner of Canada has warned “would seemingly allow departments and agencies to share the personal information of all individuals, including ordinary Canadians who may not be suspected of terrorist activities, for the purpose of detecting and identifying new security threats.”

Law enforcement thankfully already has many powers to target terrorism and terrorist activities in Canada (as arrests in Ottawa on Tuesday demonstrate). The threats are real and we needs laws to address them. However, the radical reform of CSIS – when viewed alongside the mass surveillance programs of CSE – point to the need for a careful, non-partisan review of the substantive rules governing such activities. Viewed in this light, addressing oversight is necessary, but by no means sufficient.

The post The Canadian Privacy and Civil Liberties Punch in the Gut (or Why CSE/CSIS Oversight is Not Enough) appeared first on Michael Geist.

CRTC Rejects Bell Request for Private Meeting On Super Bowl Simsub Decision

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Mon, 2015/02/02 - 16:45

The CRTC has rejected a request from Bell for private meetings with some or all of the CRTC Commissioners to discuss the recent simultaneous substitution decision involving the Super Bowl. According to recently obtained correspondence (posted below), Bell wrote privately to the CRTC Commissioners over the weekend to request an opportunity to discuss the ruling with each or all of them. The CRTC responded immediately, noting that the decision was the result of a public process that is still ongoing and that it would be inappropriate for Bell to hold private meetings with the Commissioners to discuss the decision.  The full correspondence is posted below:

De :  Envoyé : Sunday, February 01, 2015 09:09 AM À : Blais, Jean-Pierre; Pentefountas, Tom; Menzies, Peter; Molnar, Candice; Shoan, Raj; Dupras, Yves; Simpson, Stephen Objet : Impacts of Super Bowl Simsub Decision
 
Good morning Commissioners and apologies in advance for communicating on a weekend.
 
As most of you know, I do not often email Commissioners about substantive regulatory issues and I have rarely (if ever) communicated to everyone at the same time to convey concern about a decision.
 
You have undoubtedly heard our perspective on the Super Bowl decision and you also had the benefit of the overwhelming evidence presented at the hearing showing the significant impacts that loss of simsub, even for the Super Bowl, would have on Canadian advertisers, promotional opportunities for Canadian content and on Bell Media’s revenues.  I have attached below two press releases and an article directly relevant to theses issues.
 
While I may often disagree with CRTC rulings, I always respect that the Commission has to take the broader public interest into account.  In this case however, I really do believe the negative impacts to advertisers, Canadian content and Bell Media significantly outweigh the convenience to some viewers of being able to watch American ads within the broadcast itself.
 
I would appreciate any opportunity to further discuss this issue with each or all of you.
 
Best regards,
 
——————–
CRTC Response
 
From: Laizner, Christianne 
Sent: February-02-15 2:00 PM
To: ‘
Subject: Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2015-25
 
Dear Mr. ,
 
Your correspondence of 1 February 2015 to Commissioners has been forwarded to me for response. In that correspondence, you indicated your disagreement with the Commission’s decision regarding simultaneous substitution and the Super Bowl. You requested meetings with each or all of the Commissioners to discuss your views on this decision.
 
I would note that the decision in question was reached following an extensive public proceeding which examined many options with respect to simultaneous substitution including its complete elimination. The Commission considered all of the evidence and submissions put before it, in that public proceeding. I would further note, as indicated in the Commission’s decision, there will be further public process to implement the Commission’s decision via regulation. As such, the implementation of this decision is still before the Commission. In addition, the Commission has not yet issued its decisions on the many other outstanding issues from the public proceeding.
 
In light of the above, it would be inappropriate for you to hold private meetings with Commissioners either individually or collectively to discuss your views on this decision. It would be unfair to other parties to the public proceeding for Commissioners to hold off the record conversations with one party with a view to altering a decision already taken.
 
Sincerely,
 
Christianne Laizner
Avocate générale principale / Directrice exécutive
Senior General Counsel / Executive Director
Secteur juridique / Legal Sector
Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes /
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
CRTC, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N2

The post CRTC Rejects Bell Request for Private Meeting On Super Bowl Simsub Decision appeared first on Michael Geist.

In Partial Defense of the Seahawks’ Play Calling

Freedom to Tinker - Mon, 2015/02/02 - 09:30
The conventional wisdom about last night’s Super Bowl is that the Seahawks made a game-losing mistake by running a passing play from the Patriots’ one yard line in the closing seconds. Some are calling it the worst Super Bowl play call ever. I disagree. I won’t claim it was the right call, but I do […]

2014’s best science fiction and fantasy


Locus magazine has published its annual recommended

I was delighted and honored to find that my stories "Petard" (from Twelve Tomorrows) and "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (from Hieroglyph) (excerpt) made the cut (both have also been selected for several of this year's Year's Best anthos, for which I am extremely grateful!).

For me, the publication of the Locus List always marks the day when I fill in my Hugo nominations ballot, using it to jostle my memory and figure out which works I want to put forward. If you're interested in my own eligible works, they're the two stories above (best novelette and novella, respectively), "Information Doesn't Want to Be Free" (best related work) and "In Real Life" (with Jen Wang) (best graphic novel).

Here's the sf novels on this year's list:

* Ultima, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz; Roc 2015)
* War Dogs, Greg Bear (Orbit US; Gollancz)
* Shipstar, Gregory Benford & Larry Niven (Tor; Titan 2015)
* Chimpanzee, Darin Bradley (Underland)
* Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
* The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber (Hogarth; Canongate)
* The Peripheral, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
* Afterparty, Daryl Gregory (Tor; Titan)
* Work Done for Hire, Joe Haldeman (Ace)
* Tigerman, Nick Harkaway (Knopf; Heinemann 2015)
* Europe in Autumn, Dave Hutchinson (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
* Wolves, Simon Ings (Gollancz)
* Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
* Artemis Awakening, Jane Lindskold (Tor)
* The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor)
* The Causal Angel, Hannu Rajaniemi (Tor; Gollancz)
* The Memory of Sky, Robert Reed (Prime)
* Bête, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
* Lock In, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
* The Blood of Angels, Johanna Sinisalo (Peter Owens)
* The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Random House; Sceptre)
* Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder; Saga 2015)
* All Those Vanished Engines, Paul Park (Tor)
* Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)
* Dark Lightning, John Varley (Ace)
* My Real Children, Jo Walton (Tor; Corsair)
* Echopraxia, Peter Watts (Tor; Head of Zeus 2015)
* World of Trouble, Ben H. Winters (Quirk)

2014 Locus Recommended Reading List

Government’s Cloud Computing Strategy Focused on Keeping Data in Canada

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Fri, 2015/01/30 - 12:10

Over the past few months, the Treasury Board of Canada has quietly been developing a government-wide policy on the use of cloud computing services. The initiative started with an industry engagement event in November that highlighted many of the issues faced by the government.  Following that event, the government issued a cloud computing Request for Information that asked the industry to provide detailed information and recommendations on the government’s approach. The deadline for submissions to the RFI close today. Unfortunately, the public is unlikely to gain access to the submissions as the government has promised to keep confidential the information it receives.

The government’s cloud computing RFI provides considerable insight into its current thinking. Of particular interest are the privacy implications of using cloud computing services, particularly where the data is either hosted outside the country or by foreign-owned organizations. While the consultation asks the industry for its views on these questions, the document features proposed contractual clauses that address encryption and data storage. These include:

The Contractor must encrypt all non-public, personal and sensitive data and information in
transit to the Cloud during the life of the Contract and 90 days after termination.

The Services Provider (the Contractor) must not store any non-public, personal or sensitive data and information outside of Canada. This includes backup data and disaster recovery locations.

The Contractor and/or any and all subcontractors must ensure that all the databases
used by organizations to provide the services described in the Contract containing any
Personal Information, related to the Work, are located in Canada, the United States (US),
the European Union (EU) or in the following additional countries with which Canada has
a Bilateral and Multinational Memorandum of Understanding and Industrial Security
Arrangement: Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland.

The government apparently hopes to conclude its process with a fully-developed cloud computing usage policy by the summer.

The post Government’s Cloud Computing Strategy Focused on Keeping Data in Canada appeared first on Michael Geist.

Nine awesome Bitcoin projects at Princeton

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2015/01/30 - 11:39
As promised, here are the final project presentations from the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency technologies class I taught at Princeton. I encouraged students to build something real, rather than toy class projects, and they delivered. I hope you’ll find these presentations interesting and educational, and that you build on the work presented here (I’ve linked to the projects […]

“No Fast Lanes and Slow Lanes”: CRTC Rules Bell’s Mobile TV Service Violates Telecommunications Act

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Thu, 2015/01/29 - 11:35

The CRTC has issued a major new decision with implications for net neutrality, ruling that Bell and Videotron violated the Telecommunications Act by granting their own wireless television services an undue preference by exempting them from data charges. The Commission grounded the decision in net neutrality concerns, stating the Bell and Videotron services “may end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.”

The case arose from a complaint filed by Ben Klass, a graduate student, who noted that Bell offers a $5 per month mobile TV service that allows users to watch dozens of Bell-owned or licensed television channels for ten hours without affecting their data cap. By comparison, users accessing the same online video through a third-party service such as Netflix would be on the hook for a far more expensive data plan since all of the data usage would count against their monthly cap. Videotron was later added to the case, based on similar concerns with its mobile television service.

Bell raised several arguments in response, claiming that the mobile television services were subject broadcast regulation, not telecom regulation and that, in any event, the offering was good for consumers and should be encouraged.

The CRTC ruled that mobile television services effectively invoke both broadcast and telecom regulation, since a data connection is required to access the service. Indeed, it agreed with Klass that “from a subscriber’s perspective, the mobile TV services are accessed and delivered under conditions that are substantially similar to those of other Internet-originated telecommunications services.” That aspect of the decision is important, since it ensures that providers will not avoid the regulatory features of the Telecommunications Act by arguing that the services should be treated solely as broadcast.

Given the application of telecom regulation, the Commission examined whether the Bell and Videotron approach violated the rules undue preferences, which prohibit carriers from granting themselves an undue or unreasonable preference. It concluded that it did:

the Commission finds that the preference given in relation to the transport of Bell Mobility’s and Videotron’s mobile TV services to subscribers’ mobile devices, and the corresponding disadvantage in relation to the transport of other audiovisual content services available over the Internet, will grow and will have a material impact on consumers, and other audiovisual content services in particular.

The decision was clearly grounded with net neutrality principles in mind. CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, speaking just prior to the release of the decision, stated that there would be “no fast and slow lanes”, adding:

At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron. It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­– and this decision supports this goal ­– that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content. That everyone can access the bridges without restrictions. We also want to ensure that abuses of power in the system do not go unchecked.

It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers, and innovation in its purest form is to be applauded. By all means, we at the CRTC want broadcasters to move television forward by creating new and exciting ways to view content. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene. We’ve got to keep the lanes of our bridges unobstructed so that everyone can cross.

Yet despite the ringing endorsement of the principles of net neutrality, it should be noted that the decision did not apply the CRTC’s Internet traffic management practices (ITMPs). The ITMPs, which are frequently referred to as the net neutrality rules, were viewed as inapplicable, with the Commission ruling that Bell and Videotron were not using an ITMP as part of the service (though Videotron did at one point in time and later dropped it).

That distinction is important, since it suggests that the ITMPs may be more limited in scope than some had anticipated. Given that the CRTC found that the services still violated the rules under the Telecommunications Act, it points an evolving net neutrality framework in Canada that includes analysis of both the ITMPs and the principles of undue preference.

The post “No Fast Lanes and Slow Lanes”: CRTC Rules Bell’s Mobile TV Service Violates Telecommunications Act appeared first on Michael Geist.

Android WebView security and the mobile advertising marketplace

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2015/01/28 - 09:00
Freedom to Tinker readers are probably aware of the current controversy over Google’s handling of ongoing security vulnerabilities in its Android WebView component. What sounds at first like a routine security problem turns out to have some deep challenges.  Let’s start by filling in some background and build up to the big problem they’re not […]

Overclocked is now a DRM-free audiobook


My multi-award-winning short story collection Overclocked is now a DRM-free audiobook, courtesy of Downpour.com

And no, it's not on Audible, because they refuse to carry my books unless I let them put DRM on them.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live through a bioweapon attack or to have every aspect of your life governed by invisible ants? In Cory Doctorow’s collection of novellas, he wields his formidable experience in technology and computing to give us mind-bending sci-fi tales that explore the possibilities of information technology—and its various uses—run amok.

“Anda’s Game” is a spin on the bizarre new phenomenon of “cyber sweatshops,” in which people are paid very low wages to play online games all day in order to generate in-game wealth, which can be converted into actual money. Another tale tells of the heroic exploits of “sysadmins”—systems administrators—as they defend the cyberworld, and hence the world at large, from worms and bioweapons. And yes, there is a story about zombies too.


Overclocked :
Stories of the Future Present

Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Tue, 2015/01/27 - 11:24

As e-commerce and online digital services command a growing share of the market, it comes as little surprise to find the government angling to claim what it sees as its fair share in tax revenue. Last spring, the federal government’s budget quietly announced plans to consult on the prospect of levying sales taxes (GST/HST) on digital products such as music downloads or online video services.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the chief argument underlying the call for digital sales taxes is a level playing field. Digital services with a physical presence in Canada, such as Apple iTunes, Amazon, and Shomi charge GST/HST. However, foreign companies without a Canadian presence, most notably Internet video giant Netflix, do not (interestingly, when Netflix is purchased through a third party service such as AppleTV, the tax is applied).

As these services become more popular, proponents of extending the sales tax to foreign digital services argue that the government will start losing significant revenues and Canadian services will be placed at a competitive disadvantage on their home soil. The government consultation led a diverse group of companies and organizations ranging from Rogers Communications to ACTRA, the actors’ union, to argue in favour of extending sales taxes on digital services to foreign companies.

While some of these claims stem from the ongoing fear of marketplace disruption from Netflix, the tax fairness argument is a good one. In fact, many other countries or tax jurisdictions have either instituted sales taxes on foreign digital services or are in the process of doing so. For example, the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina last year passed a resolution forcing debit and credit card issuers to withhold three per cent from payments made to streaming service providers. The levy was specifically targeted at Netflix subscribers in the city and was reportedly designed to make local streaming services more competitive.

Interestingly, technically there is tax equivalency since Canadians are supposed to self-report the applicable sales tax in a self-assessment. In reality though, few are aware of the obligation and even fewer do so. Indeed, with an annual HST bill of $12.46 for a 12-month Netflix subscription, the missing dollars seem insignificant on an individual level.

Those individual bills can add up to millions of dollars, however, which may provide enough incentive for the federal government to conveniently forget the fall promise of “no Netflix tax” (which referred to a fee for creating Canadian content, not sales tax) and establish a system to require foreign digital operators to collect and remit sales tax on their Canadian sales.

Should the government embrace extending sales taxes to foreign services, the big question will lie in the implementation.  The issue of creating a global sales tax system that requires foreign provides to register and remit sales taxes is fraught with complexity.

Registration requirements alone create new costs that some businesses may be unwilling to bear. In fact, some may simply decide to avoid or block the Canadian market altogether, leading to even more services that either decline to sell to Canadians or which increase their prices to account for the regulatory cost burden.

In order to avoid burdening small businesses, countries may set a revenue threshold before registration and collection requirements kick in.  For example, Switzerland requires foreign digital service providers to register and collect an 8 per cent tax provided that they earn more than C$140,000 annually in income.

Even with a threshold to limit collection to larger businesses, the complexity associated with digital sales taxes is difficult to avoid.  Will the collection apply solely to consumer purchases or also business-to-business sales? Will all digital sales – including virtual property in games or cloud computing services – be subject to a levy?

Given the ever-changing digital environment, the digital taxman may be on the way, but identifying what is subject to sales tax will be easier said than done.

The post Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada? appeared first on Michael Geist.

Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Tue, 2015/01/27 - 11:21

Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 24, 2015 as Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

As e-commerce and online digital services command a growing share of the market, it comes as little surprise to find the government angling to claim what it sees as its fair share in tax revenue. Last spring, the federal government’s budget quietly announced plans to consult on the prospect of levying sales taxes (GST/HST) on digital products such as music downloads or online video services.

The chief argument underlying the call for digital sales taxes is a level playing field. Digital services with a physical presence in Canada, such as Apple iTunes, Amazon, and Shomi charge GST/HST. However, foreign companies without a Canadian presence, most notably Internet video giant Netflix, do not (interestingly, when Netflix is purchased through a third party service such as AppleTV, the tax is applied).

As these services become more popular, proponents of extending the sales tax to foreign digital services argue that the government will start losing significant revenues and Canadian services will be placed at a competitive disadvantage on their home soil. The government consultation led a diverse group of companies and organizations ranging from Rogers Communications to ACTRA, the actors’ union, to argue in favour of extending sales taxes on digital services to foreign companies.

While some of these claims stem from the ongoing fear of marketplace disruption from Netflix, the tax fairness argument is a good one. In fact, many other countries or tax jurisdictions have either instituted sales taxes on foreign digital services or are in the process of doing so. For example, the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina last year passed a resolution forcing debit and credit card issuers to withhold three per cent from payments made to streaming service providers. The levy was specifically targeted at Netflix subscribers in the city and was reportedly designed to make local streaming services more competitive.

Interestingly, technically there is tax equivalency since Canadians are supposed to self-report the applicable sales tax in a self-assessment. In reality though, few are aware of the obligation and even fewer do so. Indeed, with an annual HST bill of $12.46 for a 12-month Netflix subscription, the missing dollars seem insignificant on an individual level.

Those individual bills can add up to millions of dollars, however, which may provide enough incentive for the federal government to conveniently forget the fall promise of “no Netflix tax” (which referred to a fee for creating Canadian content, not sales tax) and establish a system to require foreign digital operators to collect and remit sales tax on their Canadian sales.

Should the government embrace extending sales taxes to foreign services, the big question will lie in the implementation.  The issue of creating a global sales tax system that requires foreign provides to register and remit sales taxes is fraught with complexity.

Registration requirements alone create new costs that some businesses may be unwilling to bear. In fact, some may simply decide to avoid or block the Canadian market altogether, leading to even more services that either decline to sell to Canadians or which increase their prices to account for the regulatory cost burden.

In order to avoid burdening small businesses, countries may set a revenue threshold before registration and collection requirements kick in.  For example, Switzerland requires foreign digital service providers to register and collect an 8 per cent tax provided that they earn more than C$140,000 annually in income.

Even with a threshold to limit collection to larger businesses, the complexity associated with digital sales taxes is difficult to avoid.  Will the collection apply solely to consumer purchases or also business-to-business sales? Will all digital sales – including virtual property in games or cloud computing services – be subject to a levy?

Given the ever-changing digital environment, the digital taxman may be on the way, but identifying what is subject to sales tax will be easier said than done.

The post Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada? appeared first on Michael Geist.

Sign up now for the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency technologies online course

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2015/01/23 - 13:38
At Princeton I taught a course on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency technologies during the semester that just ended. Joe Bonneau unofficially co-taught it with me. Based on student feedback and what we accomplished in the course, it was extremely successful. Next week I’ll post videos of all the final project presentations. The course was based on […]

How to fix copyright in two easy steps (and one hard one)


My new Locus column, A New Deal for Copyright, summarizes the argument in my book Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, and proposes a set of policy changes we could make that would help artists make money in the Internet age while decoupling copyright from Internet surveillance and censorship.

There are two small policy interventions that would make a huge differ­ence to the balance of commercial power in the arts, while safeguarding human rights and civil liberties.

1. Reform DRM law.

It should never be a crime to:

* Report a vulnerability in a DRM;

* Remove DRM to accomplish a lawful purpose.

With this simple reform, DRM would no longer turn our devices into long-lived reservoirs of pathogens (because bugs could be reported as soon as they were discovered), and would no longer give the whip-hand over publishing to tech companies (because re­moving DRM to do something legal, like moving a book between two different readers, would be likewise legal).

2. Reform intermediary liability.

* The DMCA ‘‘safe harbor’’ should require submission of evidence that the identified works are indeed infringing;

* If you file a DMCA takedown notice that ma­terially misrepresents the facts as you know them or should have known them, you should be liable to stiff, exemplary statutory damages, with both the intermediary and the creator of the censored work having a cause of action against you, and with the courts having the power to award costs to the victims’ lawyers.

By ensuring a minimum standard of care for censorship demands, and penalties for abuse, the practice of carelessly sending millions of slop­pily compiled takedowns would be stopped dead (last year, Fox perjured itself and had copies of my novel Homeland removed from sites that were authorized to host them, because it couldn’t be bothered to distinguish my novel from its TV show). Likewise, penalties for abuse with a loser-pays system of fees would give the victims of malicious censorship attempts grounds for punishing the wrongdoers who make a mockery of out the copyright holder’s toolkit to silence their opponents.

But so long as we’re making a wish-list, here’s the big policy change that would make all this stuff much less fraught: STOP APPLYING COPYRIGHT TO ANYONE EXCEPT THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY.

A New Deal for Copyright

Consumerist on Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free


Consumerist's Kate Cox has turned in a long, excellent, in-depth review of my book Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, really nailing the book's thesis. Namely, that extremist copyright laws don't just mess up artists, but actually endanger all our privacy, freedom and whole digital lives.

Doctorow draws two bright lines connecting copyright law to other major issues: government surveillance, as shared by Edward Snowden; censorship by private companies; and the necessity of free expression to civil and human rights.

Copyright claims are often used as a silencing tactic, where a party with power issues a takedown claim to get content from a party with less power removed from the internet.

For example, Doctorow cites copyright takedown notices issued by police departments demanding to have videos of their officers committing illegal acts taken down on the grounds that the police, not the person with an iPhone who recorded them, have copyright on the videos. Or takedown notices issued by the Church of Scientology to have removed articles from opponents who used leaked internal documents to criticize the organization.

“There are almost never penalties for abusing the takedown process,” Doctorow notes. “It’s the measure of first resort for rich and powerful people and companies who are threatened by online disclosures of corruption and misdeeds.”

Likewise, intermediary companies become gatekeepers of what end users may and may not consume — because they don’t want to get sued. So they fall into the “notice and takedown” scheme, and pass it all along to you. And that includes possibly having your entire broadband connection throttled or hijacked if a copyright holder doesn’t like what a user of that connection has been doing.

Because they have the right, and the ability, to keep an eye on you if you’re anywhere in the ecosystem: using a computer, phone, or internet connection that you didn’t build out of string yourself.

4 Ways Copyright Law Actually Controls Your Whole Digital Life [Kate Cox/Consumerist]

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