The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 per cent of world GDP, heads to Hawaii later this month for ministerial-level negotiations. According to media reports, this may be the final round of talks, with countries expected to address the remaining contentious issues with their “best offers” in the hope that an agreement can be reached. Canadian coverage of the TPP has centred primarily on U.S. demands for changes to longstanding agricultural market safeguards.
With a national election a few months away, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the prospect of overhauling some of Canada’s biggest business sectors has politicians from all parties waffling on the agreement. Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast, who will lead the Canadian delegation, maintains that the government has not agreed to dismantle supply management protections and that it will only enter into an agreement if the deal is in the best interests of the country. The opposition parties are similarly hesitant to stake out positions on key issues, noting that they cannot judge the TPP until it is concluded and publicly released.
While the agricultural issues may dominate debate, it is only one unresolved issue of many. Indeed, the concerns associated with the agreement go far beyond the supply of products such as milk and chickens.
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For the past two decades, it has been the Internet’s never-ending story. Established, successful businesses face Internet upstarts who leverage the advantages of a global network and new communications technology to offer better prices, more choice or innovative services.
In the 1990s, it was online retailers such as Amazon, who presented more selection at lower prices than most bookstores could offer. In the 2000s, Wikipedia brought the decades-old encyclopedia business to an end, online music services provided greater convenience than conventional record stores, and Internet telephony technologies used by companies like Skype changed the rules of international voice and video calls. Today, services such as Uber, AirBnB, and Netflix have upended the taxi, hotel, and broadcast worlds.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that in these David vs. Goliath type battles, the established businesses don’t quietly fade away. Using their remaining influence, they often look to laws and regulations that increase costs, prohibit activities, restrict consumers, or regulate pricing to create barriers for the new entrants.
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Canadians have become increasingly troubled by reports revealing that telecom and Internet companies receive millions of requests for subscriber data from a wide range of government departments. In light of public concern, some Internet and telecom companies have begun to issue regular transparency reports that feature aggregate data on the number of requests they receive and the disclosures they make.
The transparency reports from companies such as Rogers, Telus, and TekSavvy have helped shed light on government demands for information and on corporate disclosure practices. However, they also paint an incomplete picture since companies have offered up inconsistent data and some of the largest, including Bell, have thus far refused to come clean on past requests and disclosures.
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For governments accustomed to wielding their power to regulate local activity, the Internet has long been a source of frustration. From music sites to Uber to AirBNB, online services represent an enormous challenge to conventional government regulation, which typically relies on a jurisdictional hook to compel compliance.
While most reputable global companies can ill-afford to simply ignore laws or court orders, there are still websites that operate largely beyond the reach of government regulation. In response, some governments have attempted to regulate online behaviour, ordering Internet providers to block access to offending websites.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Canadians have generally been spared website blocking initiatives due in part to the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits carriers from controlling “the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.” That rule means that Internet providers are effectively prohibited from unilaterally blocking content.
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Last week, the Conservative party posted an offensive advertisement on YouTube and Facebook titled Justin Trudeau on ISIS. The ad starts with ISIS music and images of prisoners about be drowned or beheaded before running short edited clips from a 13 minute interview with Trudeau and the CBC’s Terry Milewski. The advertisement has rightly generated a backlash with questions about whether it violates Bill C-51′s prohibitions on terrorist propaganda. Conservative Party campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke argues that it is little different than newscasts involving ISIS, but watching the combination of music and imagery, it clearly goes well beyond conventional news reporting on ISIS. Indeed, even if it fall short of violating Bill C-51, the ad is in terrible taste, treating images of victims as mere props for political gain.
Beyond the C-51 issue, the CBC waded into the issue late on Friday, as Jennifer McGuire, the CBC News Editor-in-Chief, posted a blog indicating that the broadcaster has asked YouTube and Facebook to take down the ad. The ostensible reason? Copyright. The CBC has again raised the issue of re-use of news coverage in political advertising, claiming that it is determined to limit re-use since “our integrity as providers of serious, independent coverage of political parties and governments rests on this.” In light of this position, the CBC says its guiding principle is:
No one – no individual candidate or political party, and no government, corporation or NGO – may re-use our creative and copyrighted property without our permission. This includes our brands, our talent and our content.
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