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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Rogers Media’s recent decision to slash 110 jobs and end all newscasts at OMNI, its multicultural channel, has sparked outrage among many ethnic communities, who have lamented the cancellation of local news programs in Italian, Punjabi, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Supporters argue that OMNI programming is essential to those communities and worry that the cancellations will mean that viewers become less politically engaged.
Last week, a House of Commons committee held a hearing on the OMNI cuts as members of Parliament from each party took Rogers executives to task. Rogers was unsurprisingly unapologetic, noting that the decision was based on simple economics as it pointed to declining advertising revenues that made the programming unsustainable.
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The government’s gift to the recording industry wrapped up yesterday as Bill C-59 received royal assent and with it, the term of copyright for sound recordings was extended from 50 to 70 years. I’ve chronicled in detail how the extension of the copyright term without public consultation or discussion hurts Canadian consumers, reduces competition, and is a direct result of record label lobbying (surprise, cost to consumers, limited competition, reduced access to Canadian heritage, lobbying impact).
As an added bonus, groups have started to use the extension to argue that the government should also extend the term of copyright for authors from the current term of life plus an additional 50 years to life plus 70 years. Randy Bachman has an op-ed in the Globe and Mail today calling for a copyright term extension that must be read to be believed. The piece was not only a day late (he calls for the government to extend term in the same budget bill that already received royal assent), but contains some of the most absurd claims about copyright in recent memory.
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