Earlier this month, a political storm hit in Canada when it was revealed that the government was considering including a new copyright exception for political advertising in its forthcoming omnibus budget bill. The reports sparked claims of fascism, censorship, expropriation, and more, yet as I argued, the commentary bore almost no relationship to reality. There were legitimate concerns about an exception made solely available to politicians and political parties as well as doubts about the need for such an exception given the breadth of the current fair dealing exception that already permits most uses of video clips.
Yesterday, the government tabled its omnibus budget bill, which contains changes to the Patent Act (to bring Canada into compliance with the Patent Law Treaty), effectively ban paper billing charges for telecom and broadcast services, and grant new enforcement powers to the CRTC. As for the copyright reform provision, perhaps the public outcry had an impact. It is nowhere to be found.
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Bill S-4, the government’s Digital Privacy Act, was sent for review to the Industry Committee yesterday. The committee review, which comes before second reading, represents what is likely to be the last opportunity to fix a bill that was supposed to be a good news story for the government but has caused serious concern within the Canadian privacy community. While there are several concerns (I raised them in my appearance before the Senate committee that first studied the bill), the chief one involves the potential expansion of voluntary disclosure of personal information without consent or court oversight. Bill S-4 proposes that:
“an organization may disclose personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual… if the disclosure is made to another organization and is reasonable for the purposes of investigating a breach of an agreement or a contravention of the laws of Canada or a province that has been, is being or is about to be committed and it is reasonable to expect that disclosure with the knowledge or consent of the individual would compromise the investigation;
Translate the legalese and you find that organizations will be permitted to disclose personal information without consent (and without a court order) to any organization that is investigating a contractual breach or possible violation of any law. This applies both past breaches or violations as well as potential future violations. Moreover, the disclosure occurs in secret without the knowledge of the affected person (who therefore cannot challenge the disclosure since they are not aware it is happening).
The government is clearly aware that this is a major concern as it attempted to answer the critics during debate over Bill S-4 in the House of Commons yesterday. Unfortunately, the responses were incredibly weak. I’ve identified at least six responses from government sources below.
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The Internet Association, a U.S.-based industry association that counts most of the biggest names in the Internet economy as its members (including Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, and Yahoo), recently released a policy paper on how Canada could become more competitive in the digital economy. The report’s recommendations on tax reform generated some attention, but buried within the 27-page report was a call for patent reform.
The Internet giants warned against patent trolling, which refers to instances when companies that had no involvement in the creation or invention of a patent demand licences or other payments from legitimate companies by relying on dubious patents. Studies indicate that patent trolling has a negative impact on economic growth and innovation and is a particularly big problem in the U.S., which tends to be more litigious than Canada.
Given those concerns, the Internet Association urged the Canadian government to enact reforms to “limit the ability of non-practicing entities [a euphemism for patent trolls] of exploiting patents to make unreasonable demands of productive companies and prevent crippling damage awards.”
While the Canadian government has yet to respond publicly to the recommendations, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports that according to documents recently obtained under the Access to Information Act, earlier this year Industry Minister James Moore launched a series of private consultations with Canadian business on intellectual property issues. The government came prepared to engage directly on the patent trolling issue, going so far as to identify several potential policy measures. Yet it was Canadian business that discouraged Moore from taking action, warning against the “unintended consequences” of patent reforms.
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This morning Wikileaks released an updated leaked version of the draft Trans Pacific Partnership intellectual property chapter. The latest leak dates from May 2014 (the previous leak was current to August 2013. I assessed it in posts here, here, here, here and here). The 77-page document provides a detailed look at the proposed chapter, complete with country positions on each issue. While a comprehensive assessment of the chapter will take some time, the immediate takeaway is that the U.S. remains fairly isolated in its efforts to overhaul patent and copyright law around the world with Canada emerging as the leading opponent of its demands.
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While it was overshadowed by the headlines over potential copyright reform, Peter Van Loan, the government’s House leader, disclosed last week that the government is planning to send Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act, to the Industry Committee for review prior to second reading. The bill, which has proven controversial due to a provision that expands the possibility of voluntary disclosure of subscriber information and relatively weak security breach disclosure rules, will be open to more significant reforms that previously thought possible (my remarks before the Senate committee can be found here). Under Parliamentary rules, referring a bill before second reading allows the committee to alter the scope of the bill.
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