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Descending Clouds by Gary Hayes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/7RQ4wS

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

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:

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January 30, 2015 3 comments News
Mobile TV by Tom Godber (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/5n4ciA

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

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.

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January 29, 2015 18 comments News
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) national headquarters in Ottawa by Obert Madondo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/oWPkF8

Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

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.

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January 27, 2015 6 comments Columns
The Grand Budapest Hotel by Doug (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/qcZQxt

Stream On?: How Canadian Law Views Online Streaming Video

The misuse of Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has attracted considerable media and political attention over the past week. With revelations that some rights holders are requiring Internet providers to send notifications that misstate the law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations, the government has acknowledged that the notices are misleading and promised to contact providers and rights holders to stop the practice.

While the launch of the copyright system has proven to be an embarrassment for Industry Minister James Moore, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that many Canadians are still left wondering whether the law applies to Internet video streaming, which has emerged as the most popular way to access online video.

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January 20, 2015 11 comments Columns
IMG_2551 by Andy Nystrom (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/pc2XeY

Videotron’s Odd Copyright Notices: No User Rights and Inaccurate Privacy Information

As the misuse of the Canada’s copyright notice-and-notice system continues to attract attention, Industry Canada has taken the first step to try to alleviate public concern. The department has posted an advisory on the notice-and-notice system which seeks to assuage consumer concern, noting that U.S. copyright penalties do not apply in Canada and that the statutory damages cap for non-commercial infringement is C$5000. It also states:

  • Receiving a notice does not necessarily mean that you have in fact infringed copyright or that you will be sued for copyright infringement.
  • The Notice and Notice regime does not impose any obligations on a subscriber who receives a notice and it does not require the subscriber to contact the copyright owner or the intermediary.

This is important information that provides much needed context for the notices. As I noted last week, some Internet providers are forwarding similar information to their subscribers.

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January 14, 2015 5 comments News