The long election campaign of 2015 has featured a myriad of daily policy announcements as the three largest political parties vie for attention and votes. From targeted tax cuts to new spending promises, political leaders have focused on education, child care, defence, the environment and more. Yet thus far largely missing from the campaign has been the most fundamental digital issue – universal, affordable broadband Internet access.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the Conservatives pointed to their spending on broadband in August when few were paying much attention, but that policy has done little to stem Canada’s steady slide in the global broadband rankings which indicate that Canadian Internet services are middling at best when compared to other developed countries. The opposition parties have said even less, failing to take advantage of consumer frustration by unveiling innovative policies that might address the issue.
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In February 2007, Stephanie Lenz, a California mother of a pair of young toddlers, shot a short video of her children dancing in the family kitchen with the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy” playing in the background. Lenz proceeded to upload the 29 second video to YouTube so that friends and family could see it.
Thousands of hours of user-generated video are posted online every day and there was nothing particularly remarkable about the dancing baby video. What set it apart, however, was that several months later Universal Music Group, Prince’s music label, sent a takedown notice to YouTube claiming that it infringed its copyright.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that similar takedown notices are sent to Internet intermediaries such as Google every hour. Yet this particular takedown demand seemed so at odds with the law (few experts believe it infringes copyright) that it sparked an eight year court battle in the United States and served as the inspiration for a 2012 Canadian copyright reform that protects users and websites that create and host non-commercial user-generated content.
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Canada’s controversial anti-terrorism bill, Bill C-51, has emerged as a key talking point in the current election campaign. Pointing to its big implications for privacy and surveillance, the NDP sees political opportunity by emphasizing its opposition to the bill, while the Liberals have been forced to defend their decision to support it (but call for amendments if elected). The Conservatives unsurprisingly view the bill as evidence of their commitment to national security and have even floated the possibility of additional anti-terror measures.
While Bill C-51 now represents a legislative shorthand for the parties positions on privacy and surveillance, a potentially bigger privacy issue merits closer attention.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that last year, the government concluded more than a decade of debate over “lawful access” legislation by enacting a bill that provided new law enforcement powers for access to Internet and telecom data. The bill came just as reports revealed that telecom providers faced more than a million requests for such information each year and the Supreme Court of Canada issued its landmark Spencer decision, which ruled that Canadians have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their basic subscriber information, including name, address, and IP address.
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The success of Internet giant Google has largely been based on something small: Internet advertising that use tiny keyword-based ads to generate billions of dollars in revenue. Given Google’s massive audience, advertisers have been willing to pay for search-based ads that deliver clicks back to their websites. Those ads appear as sponsored results alongside the organic, relevancy-based search results.
The Google model involves an auction process in which advertisers bid to place their ad against results based on the search terms entered by users. Under the model, whoever is willing to pay the most for a given term or search query has their ad appear as a “sponsored link.” Whenever a user clicks on the sponsored link, the marketer pays Google the bid amount. Each click may only cost a few pennies, but with millions of clicks every day, the keyword advertising business is a multi-billion dollar business.
My weekly technology law column (homepage version) notes that Google’s keyword advertising approach has been a huge commercial success, but it has long raised legal concerns over whether trade mark owners have rights in their marks that extend to their use as keyword advertisements. For example, would it be a trademark violation for Bell Canada to purchase keyword ads using terms such as Telus or Rogers so that its ad would appear alongside search results for the competition?
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The trial of Senator Mike Duffy featured several notable revelations last week about the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office. One of the most important was found in a 2013 memo written by former chief of staff Nigel Wright that focuses on the control exerted by the PMO over the Senate. While the Senate is nominally an independent body of “sober second thought”, the memo highlights how the PMO expects Senate leadership to follow directions from the Prime Minister and to avoid developing policy positions without advance consultations and approval.
For anyone who has followed Senate committee reviews of legislative proposals, the Wright memo is not particularly surprising. This past spring, a Senate committee review of Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terrorism legislation, heard from experts such as the Privacy Commissioner of Canada about much-needed reforms. Yet once it was time to vote, the committee left the bill unchanged, lending an air of theatre to the entire process.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that assuming that policy control over Senate committee remains a priority, a recent batch of Senate reports provides new insights into future Conservative policies. Weeks before the election call, Senate committees began releasing long-awaited reports on a wide range of issues including national security, digital commerce, and the future of the CBC. In fact, more Senate committee reports were released in June and July (15 in total) than in the previous 18 months combined.
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