Yesterday I appeared alongside Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Research in Motion, at the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade public consultation on the TPP. There were some interesting exchanges that I will highlight once the transcript is released. My opening remarks are posted below.
Appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, May 5, 2016
Good morning. My name is Michael Geist. I am a law professor at the University of Ottawa, where I hold the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. I appear today in a personal capacity representing only my own views.
There is lots to say about the TPP – I have written dozens of articles and posts on the agreement and I am currently working on a book on point – but I have limited time so I’ll focus briefly on four issues.
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Earlier this week, I delivered a webinar for the Canadian Association of Business Economics on the implications of the TPP. The talk touched on a wide range of concerns including copyright, privacy, culture, and digital policies. A video of the talk can be found here.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly surprised culture and Internet watchers last week by announcing plans for a comprehensive review of Canadian content policies in a digital world. Joly says everything is on the table including broadcasting regulation, Cancon funding mechanisms, copyright law, the role of the CBC, and the future of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
While there is little doubt that the current framework was established for a different era, rules that have sheltered the industry from foreign competition and transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers to creator groups will not disappear without a fight. Indeed, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) warns that the most common refrain from the Canadian cultural community is likely to be that the existing rules should be extended to the Internet.
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Bell announced plans this morning to buy MTS, the Manitoba-based wireless carrier that has been critical to creating a more competitive wireless market in the province. The nearly $4 billion deal would include a commitment to divest one-third of MTS wireless customers to Telus. The agreement is still subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals along with figuring out how some customers go to Telus and some stay with Bell. While the government has yet to articulate a clear strategy for wireless competition in Canada, the deal appears to kill the hope of four carriers in each market and will likely mean sharply increased prices for Manitoba consumers.
With the four competitors in Manitoba – Bell, Telus, Rogers, and MTS – the province features some of the lowest wireless prices in Canada. Compare Bell’s wireless pricing for consumers in Manitoba and Ontario. The cost of an unlimited nationwide calling share plan in Manitoba is $50. The same plan in Ontario is $65. The difference in data costs are even larger: Bell offers 6 GB for $20 in Manitoba. The same $20 will get you just 500 MB in Ontario. In fact, 5 GB costs $50 in Ontario, more than double the cost in Manitoba for less data. The other carriers such as Rogers and Telus also offer lower pricing in Manitoba. The reason is obvious: the presence of a fourth carrier creates more competition and lower pricing. With MTS out of the way – and Bell and Telus sharing the same wireless network – prices are bound to increase to levels more commonly found in the rest of the country.
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Voltage Pictures, which previously engaged in a lengthy court battle to require Canadian ISPs to disclose the names of alleged file sharers, has adopted a new legal strategy. This week, the company filed an unusual application in federal court, seeking certification of a reverse class action against an unknown number of alleged uploaders of five movies using BitTorrent (The Cobbler, Pay the Ghost, Good Kill, Fathers and Daughters, and American Heist). The use of reverse class actions is very rare in Canada (only a few have been reported). There were attempts to use the mechanism in copyright claims in the U.S. several years ago without success.
The Voltage filing seeks certification of the class, a declaration that each member of the class has infringed its copyright, an injunction stopping further infringement, damages, and costs of the legal proceedings. Voltage names as its representative respondent John Doe (linked to a Rogers IP address). It admits that it does not know the names or identifies of any members of its proposed class, but seeks to group anyone in Canada who infringed the copyright on one of the five movies. Voltage does not say how many people it has identified as infringing its copyright. It urges the court to issue an order to stop the infringement and to assess damages to be paid by each person.
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