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Michael Geist's Blog

Government Buries Massive Trademark Overhaul in Budget Implementation Bill

It started innocuously enough with the House of Commons Committee on Industry, Science and Technology releasing its long-awaited report on intellectual property in Canada in March 2013. The report included a recommendation that Canada ratify several international patent and trademark treaties, which came as a surprise (particularly to opposition members of parliament) since no witness had raised the issue before the committee.  

Within weeks, the government accepted the recommendation and one year later it moved to ratify the treaties with scant debate or discussion. Yet the ratification of five intellectual property treaties about which few Canadians have ever heard and that seem certain to increase fees for business was only the start.

Indeed, earlier this month, the government quietly included provisions in the budget implementation bill that will radically overhaul Canadian trademark law. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes those changes have not been subject to any serious debate, discussion or public consultation.  


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Access Copyright Urges Copyright Board to Ignore Bill C-11's Expansion of Fair Dealing

As I noted in a post yesterday, Access Copyright has filed its response to the Copyright Board of Canada's series of questions about fair dealing and education in the tariff proceedings involving Canadian post-secondary institutions. Yesterday's post focused on how Access Copyright has urged the Copyright Board to ignore the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling on the relevance of licences to a fair dealing analysis. Today's post examines the collective's response to the Copyright Board's question on the effect of the fair dealing legislative change in Bill C-32/C-11. Access Copyright engages in revisionist history as it seeks to hide its extensive lobbying campaign that warned that the reforms would permit mass copying without compensation.

For two years during the debates over the bill, Access Copyright stood as the most vocal opponent of the expansion of the fair dealing purposes to include education. Given its frequent public comments and lobbying efforts on the bill, one would think its response to the Copyright Board, would be pretty straight-forward. For example, it created a copyright reform website - CopyrightGetitRight.ca - that warned:

the education exception will permit mass, industrial-scale copying (equivalent to millions of books every year) without compensation to the creators and publishers who invested their creativity, skill, money and effort to produce this content.


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Access Copyright Urges Copyright Board to Ignore Supreme Court Ruling on Fair Dealing

Access Copyright has filed its response to the Copyright Board of Canada's series of questions about fair dealing and education in the tariff proceedings involving Canadian post-secondary institutions. I have several posts planned about the 40 page response, which continues the copyright collective's longstanding battle against fair dealing. This one focuses on Access Copyright's astonishing effort to urge the Copyright Board to reject the Supreme Court of Canada's clear ruling on the relevance of licensing within the context of fair dealing.

Access Copyright has frequently argued that the availability of a licence should trump fair dealing. For example, in the 2001 copyright consultation it stated:

As a rule, where collective licensing is in place there should be no exception or limitation to a right for which the holder has a legitimate interest. As defined in the Act, anytime that a licence to reproduce a work is available from a collective society within a reasonable time, for a reasonable price and with reasonable effort, it is commercially available.

Access Copyright reiterated its position in its 2003 intervention in the Law Society of Upper Canada v. CCH Canadian case.  It argued:


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The Expansion of Warrantless Disclosure Under S-4: Government's Response Fails to Reassure

My post and column on the expansion of warrantless disclosure under Bill S-4, the misleadingly named Digital Privacy Act, has attracted some attention and a response from Industry Canada.  The department told iPolitics:

"Companies who share personal information are required to comply with the rules to ensure that information is only disclosed for the purpose of conducting an investigation into a contravention of a law or breach of an agreement. For example, self-regulating professional associations, such as a provincial law society, may wish to investigate allegations of malpractice made by a client. When organizations are sharing private information, the Privacy Commissioner can investigate violations and may take legal action against companies who do not follow the rules. This is consistent with privacy laws in British Columbia and Alberta and was recommended by the Standing Committee Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics."

The response may sound reassuring, but it shouldn't be.


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Why the Digital Privacy Act Undermines Our Privacy: Bill S-4 Risks Widespread Warrantless Disclosure

Earlier this week, the government introduced the Digital Privacy Act (Bill S-4), the latest attempt to update Canada's private sector privacy law. The bill is the third try at privacy reform stemming from the 2006 PIPEDA review, with the prior two bills languishing for months before dying due to elections or prorogation. 

The initial focus has unsurprisingly centered on the new security breach disclosure requirements that would require organizations to disclose breaches that puts Canadians at risk for identity theft. Security breach disclosure rules are well-established in other countries and long overdue for Canada. The bill fixes an obvious shortcoming from the earlier bills by adding some teeth to the disclosure requirements with the addition of penalties for violations of the law. Moreover, Bill S-4 stops short of granting the Privacy Commissioner full order making power as is found at the provincial level, but the creation of compliance orders has some promise of holding organizations to account where violations occur.

Despite those positive proposed changes to Canadian privacy law, the bill also includes a provision that could massively expand warrantless disclosure of personal information.



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Digital Canada 150: Why the Canadian Strategy Misses Key Issues and Lags Behind Peer Countries

In my first post on Digital Canada 150, Canada's digital strategy, I argued that it provided a summation of past accomplishments and some guidance on future policies, but that it was curiously lacking in actual strategies and goals. Yesterday I reviewed how Canada's universal broadband access target lags behind much of the OECD (Peter Nowak characterizes the target as the Jar Jar Binks of the strategy). The problems with Digital Canada 150 extend far beyond connectivity, however.  In comparing the Canadian strategy with countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, it becomes immediately apparent that other countries offer far more sophisticated and detailed visions for their digital futures. While there is no requirement that Canada match other countries on specific goals, it is disappointing that years of policy development - other countries were 5 to 10 years ahead of Canada - ultimately resulted in a document short on strategy, specifics, and analysis.

For example, compare the clarity of goals between Canada and the Australia strategy:


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Digital Canada 150: Why Canada's Universal Broadband Goal is Among the Least Ambitious in the OECD

The release of Digital Canada 150, the federal government's long-awaited digital strategy, included a clear connectivity goal: 98 percent access to 5 Mbps download speeds by 2019. While the government promises to spend $305 million on rural broadband over the next five years and touts the goal as "a rate that enables e-commerce, high-resolution video, employment opportunities and distance education", the reality is that Canada now has one of the least ambitious connectivity goals in the developed world. 

Just how badly does the government's connectivity ambitions compare to other OECD countries? Consider just some of the target speeds from other countries as compiled three years ago by the OECD:


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Digital Canada 150: The Digital Strategy Without a Strategy

Four years after the Canadian government first announced plans to develop a digital economy strategy, Industry Minister James Moore traveled to Waterloo, Ontario, Friday for the release of Digital Canada 150. The long-awaited strategy document identifies five key areas for policy development: connecting Canadians, protecting the online environment, developing commercial opportunities, digital government, and Canadian content.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the release of Digital Canada 150 succeeds on at least three levels. First, it puts to rest the longstanding criticism that the government is uninterested in digital issues. Moore quickly emerged as the government’s digital leader after taking the reins at Industry Canada, promptly focusing on wireless competition, spam regulation, and now a digital strategy. After years of complaints that the digital strategy issue was Ottawa's equivalent of the "Penske File" - all talk and no action - Moore has acted.


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U.S. Calls Out Canadian Data Protection as a Trade Barrier

The U.S. Trade Representative issued its annual Foreign Trade Barrier Report on Monday. In addition to identifying the geographical indications provisions in the Canada - EU Trade Agreement, telecom foreign ownership rules, and Canadian content regulations as barriers, the USTR discussed regulations on cross-border data flows. I wrote about the issue recently, noting that the Canadian government restricted access to its single email initiative to Canadian-based hosting.

The USTR picks up on the same issue in its report:

The strong growth of cross-border data flows resulting from widespread adoption of broadband-based services in Canada and the United States has refocused attention on the restrictive effects of privacy rules in two Canadian provinces, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. These provinces mandate that personal information in the custody of a public body must be stored and accessed only in Canada unless one of a few limited exceptions applies. These laws prevent public bodies such as primary and secondary schools, universities, hospitals, government-owned utilities, and public agencies from using U.S. services when personal information could be accessed from or stored in the United States.
 
The Canadian federal government is consolidating information technology services across 63 email systems under a single platform. The request for proposals for this project includes a national security exemption which prohibits the contracted company from allowing data to go outside of Canada. This policy precludes some new technologies such as "cloud" computing providers from participating in the procurement process. The public sector represents approximately one-third of the Canadian economy, and is a major consumer of U.S. services. In today’s information-based economy, particularly where a broad range of services are moving to "cloud" based delivery where U.S. firms are market leaders; this law hinders U.S. exports of a wide array of products and services.

This issue bears watching given the growing momentum for localized data hosting conflicting with provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership that would seek to restrict such provisions.
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How Telcos and ISPs Hand Over Subscriber Data Thousands of Times Each Year Without a Warrant

The lawful access fight of 2012, which featured then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews infamously claiming that the public could side with the government or with child pornographers, largely boiled down to public discomfort with warrantless access to Internet subscriber information. The government claimed that subscriber data such as name, address, and IP address was harmless information akin to data found in the phone book, but few were convinced and the bill was ultimately shelved in the face of widespread opposition.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the government resurrected the lawful access legislation last year as a cyber-bullying bill, but it has been careful to reassure concerned Canadians that the new powers are subject to court oversight.  While it is true that Bill C-13 contains several new warrants that require court approval (albeit with a lower evidentiary standard), what the government fails to acknowledge is that telecom companies and Internet providers already hand over subscriber data hundreds of times every day without court oversight.  In fact, newly released data suggests that the companies have established special databases that grant law enforcement quick access to subscriber information without a warrant for a small fee.


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