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The Year in Technology Law and Policy

Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 28, 2015 as A Year of Big Breaches And Even Bigger Bills

With new trade agreements, a new government, new court cases, and new rules governing the Internet, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. A look back at 2015 from A to Z:

A is for the Ashley Madison data breach, which affected millions of people and placed the spotlight on online privacy.

B is for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, which became a flashpoint political issue on striking the right balance between surveillance and civil liberties.

C is for CBC v. SODRAC, a Supreme Court of Canada decision released in November that reinforced the significance of technological neutrality in copyright. The court sided with SODRAC, a copyright collective, on the need for payment for certain uses of music but ruled that an earlier rate-setting exercise had failed to account for the technological neutrality principle.

D is for Dot-Sucks, one of hundreds of new top-level domains that launched in 2015. The new domains generally failed to garner significant market share, though they created a host of new legal and policy concerns.

E is for Equustek Solutions, a B.C. based company that succeeded in obtaining a court order requiring Google to remove search results from its global index.

F is for Facebook, which won a B.C. Court of Appeal decision to stop a class action lawsuit over its now defunct Sponsored Stories service. The court ruled that the social media giant’s terms and conditions trumped the provincial privacy laws.

G is for GNLV Corp., the owner of the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas, which successfully obtained the domain in a domain name dispute resolution process.

H is for Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper which faces a Canadian defamation lawsuit following an Ontario court ruling that its website makes it subject to Ontario jurisdiction.

I is for the new Minister of Innovation, Science and Development Navdeep Bains, who will grapple with a wide range of digital policies in his newly named portfolio.

J is for Jim Balsillie, one of the founders of Research In Motion, who emerged as a vocal critic of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the massive new trade agreement that covers 40 per cent of the world GDP.

K is for keyword advertising, which continues to attract legal attention over trademark use in ads. The latest Canadian case featured the Vancouver Career College successfully defending its online advertising campaign against a lawsuit by the Vancouver Community College.

L is for lawful access legislation, which took effect in March 2015 after more than a decade of contentious debate. The new rules were framed as measures designed to stop cyberbullying, but much of the legislation involved new police powers for the online environment.

M is for metatags, which are unseen words in the coding of webpages. Metatags figured prominently in a court battle between and, two competing Canadian travel sites.

N is for the copyright notice-and-notice system, which took effect this year and faced an immediate backlash after anti-piracy companies used it to send thousands settlement demands to Internet subscribers.

O is for OMNI, one of many Canadian television channels on the chopping block due to changing viewing habits and new regulations that will allow consumers to pick which channels they wish to pay for.

P is for Plenty of Fish, the online dating site hit with a $48,000 penalty for violating Canada’s anti-spam law.

Q is for the Quebec government’s plan to require website blocking for online gambling websites.

R is for Bell’s relevant advertising program, which was cancelled after the Privacy Commissioner of Canada ruled that it ran afoul of Canadian privacy law.

S is for Stargrove Entertainment, an Ontario-based record label, whose low cost, public domain Beatles records sparked industry lobbying to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings.

T is for telecom transparency rules, which were released this year following an industry-focused consultation process.

U is for Uber, the wildly popular shared ride service that led to heated regulatory battles in cities across Canada.

V is for the Vintners Association, which lost a bizarre small claims court case involving copyright and the sharing of a paywalled article from Blacklock’s Reporter, an Ottawa-based publication. The court awarded $11,470 in damages plus an additional $2,000 in punitive damages when an association executive obtained a copy of the article from a Blacklock’s subscriber.

W is for Wind Mobile, the wireless carrier that sits at the heart of government policy focused on fostering a competitive environment for a fourth wireless player.

X is for Xplornet, the satellite-based Internet provider that was the target of numerous  net neutrality complaints over its Internet traffic management policies.

Y is for Yorkton, Saskatchewan, one of dozens of Canadian communities that benefited from Connecting Canadians funding, a program designed to bring broadband service to underserved areas.

Z is for zero rating, the policy battle over the legality of Internet providers removing data charges from some content to create a competitive advantage. The CRTC ruled on the issue this year in a dispute involving Bell and faces another claim over Videotron’s practices in 2016.

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 or online at

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