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Michael Geist's Blog

The CRTC's Future of Television Consultation: The Missing Provocative Questions

Last month, I blogged about the CRTC's Talk TV consultation and concerns that the questions were framed in a lopsided manner.  CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais was asked about those concerns in Twitter chat and he responded that the questions and answers "were intended to be provocative." I address that response in my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) highlighting both the concerns with the survey and offering some additional provocative questions that the Commission excluded.

The column begins by noting that regulation of Internet video services and the prospect of pick-and-pay television channels headline the second phase of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's future of television consultation which launched late last month. The "TalkTV" initiative is designed to make it easy for Canadians to participate, featuring six short scenarios followed by a limited number of choices for respondents.


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Copyright Users' Rights in Canada Hits Ten: The Tenth Anniversary of the CCH Decision

As Meera Nair noted last week, today marks the tenth anniversary the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark CCH Canadian v. Law Society of Upper Canada. A decade after its release, the case has grown in stature as the leading the users' rights copyright decision by a high court in the world. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice McLachlin stated:

the fair dealing exception is perhaps more properly understood as an integral part of the Copyright Act than simply a defence. Any act falling within the fair dealing exception will not be an infringement of copyright. The fair dealing exception, like other exceptions in the Copyright Act, is a user's right. In order to maintain the proper balance between the rights of a copyright owner and users' interests, it must not be interpreted restrictively. As Professor Vaver, supra, has explained, at p. 171: 'User rights are not just loopholes. Both owner rights and user rights should therefore be given the fair and balanced reading that befits remedial legislation.'

The articulation of fair dealing as a users' right represented a remarkable shift, emphasizing the need for a copyright balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users. While this approach unquestionably strengthened fair dealing, the immediate reaction to the CCH was somewhat mixed.

 
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Why The Surprise?: The Longstanding Application of Quebec's Language Laws to the Internet

Over the past couple of days, there has been mounting attention on the application of Quebec language laws to a Facebook page. The issue arose when the OQLF advised a Chelsea boutique that they had received a complaint about its English-only Facebook page. While many are reacting with alarm, the reality is that Quebec's language enforcement body has applied the law to websites for many years.

Complaints about the issue date back at least 15 years, when a complaint was filed against an English-only photography website. While a Montreal lawyer claims the issue has not been challenged in court, the issue was in fact litigated in Reid v. Court of Quebec, a case involving the online sale of maple syrup. The Quebec Superior Court upheld the application of the language laws to the Internet ruling that the law applied to commercial publications and that included websites. Further complaints seem to pop up every few years  (presumably because the system is complaints-based), but the legal analysis is pretty straightforward. The law applies to all commercial publications - including websites - involving a business with a Quebec location or address that is selling goods or services. The location of the server or even the intended audience is irrelevant - what matters is the real-space location of the business.


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Copyright Board of Canada on Copying a Few Pages: It's Insubstantial and Not Compensable

The Copyright Board of Canada has issued a series of questions  to Access Copyright in the tariff proceedings involving Canadian post-secondary institutions. Once Canada universities and colleges quit the proceedings, the Board was left to play a more aggressive role in questioning Access Copyright's claims.  Its questions focus on several important issues (discussed further below), but perhaps most noteworthy is its preliminary conclusion on what constitutes insubstantial or de minimis copying.  

In establishing the scope of copyright rights, the law refers to "the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof."  Since the rights only arise once the full work or a substantial part of it are used, anything less than that - ie. an insubstantial part - is not subject to the rights identified in the Copyright Act. While some rights holders have argued that the standard for a substantial is very low (the National Post recently argued in a case that "even the reproduction of a small number of words in a newspaper article can be an impermissible reproduction"), the Copyright Board says that its preliminary view is that "copying of a few pages or a small percentage from a book that is not a collection of short works, such as poems, is not substantial." With respect to the tariff application, the Board says this excludes more than 2.5% of coursepack copying. 


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Why Copyright Trolling in Canada Doesn't Pay: Assessing the Fallout From the Voltage - TekSavvy Case

The Canadian media featured extensive coverage over the weekend of the federal court decision that opens the door to TekSavvy disclosing the names and addresses of thousands of subscribers and establishes new safeguards against copyright trolling in Canada. While some focused on the copyright trolling issues, others emphasized the disclosure of the names and the possibility of lawsuits.

What comes next is anyone's guess - Voltage indicates that it plans to pursue the case - but the economics of suing thousands of Canadians for downloading a movie for personal purposes may not make sense given current Canadian law. This post examines the law and estimated costs of pursuing file sharing litigation against individuals, concluding that the combination of copyright reform, the Voltage decision, likely damage awards, and litigation costs will force would-be plaintiffs to reconsider their strategies.


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Downloading Decision: Federal Court Establishes New Safeguards on Disclosures in File Sharing Suits

The federal court has released its much anticipated decision in Voltage Pictures v. Does, a case involving demands that TekSavvy, a leading independent ISP, disclose the identities of roughly 2,000 subscribers alleged to have downloaded movies without authorization. The case attracted significant attention for several reasons: it is the first major "copyright troll" case in Canada involving Internet downloading (the recording industry previously tried unsuccessfully to sue 29 alleged file sharers), the government sought to discourage these file sharing lawsuits against individuals by creating a $5,000 liability cap for non-commercial infringement, TekSavvy ensured that affected subscribers were made aware of the case and CIPPIC intervened to ensure the privacy issues were considered by the court. Copies of all the case documents can be found here.

The court set the tone for the decision by opening with the following quote from a U.S. copyright case:

"the rise of so-called 'copyright trolls' - plaintiffs who file multitudes of lawsuits solely to extort quick settlements - requires courts to ensure that the litigation process and their scarce resources are not being abused."

The court was clearly sensitive to the copyright troll concern, noting that "given the issues in play the answers require a delicate balancing of privacy rights versus the rights of copyright holders. This is especially so in the context of modern day technology and users of the Internet."

So how did the court strike the balance?


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It Only Takes One: Will the Spectrum Auction Lead to a New National Wireless Carrier?

The old adage in real estate that it only takes one buyer held true in the Canadian 700 MHz spectrum auction. After potential new entrants such as Verizon declined to enter the Canadian market and Wind Mobile dropped out of the bidding at the last minute, many declared the spectrum auction a failure. Industry Minister James Moore and the government got the last laugh, however, with the auction generating $5.3 billion and the emergence of potential new national wireless player - Videotron (parent company is Quebecor). There had been some speculation that Quebecor might make a move outside of Quebec (Nowak, Corcoran) and seeing the company scoop up prime spectrum in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia offers renewed hope for a more competitive environment.


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CRTC Launches Lopsided Talk TV Consult: Raises Prospect of Net Regulation & Net Neutrality Violation

The CRTC launched the second phase of its Talk TV consultation with a series of questions that place the big regulatory issues squarely on the table. After asking some basic data questions, the consultation addresses a series of issues with scenarios that are framed in a lopsided manner. The consultation addresses hot button issues such as online video, pick-and-pay channels, and simultaneous substitution, but the options presented to respondents are limited and skewed toward Internet regulation for online video or supporting the status quo for conventional broadcast. For example, access to more U.S. programming is presented as a choice between increased fees, lost Canadian jobs, or larger television packages with Canadian channels. The online video discussion is premised on new CRTC regulations that with a series of increased fee options presented.

If this consultation is a signal of where the CRTC is headed, not only is the notion of true pick-and-pay channels dead and simultaneous substitution alive, but the Commission may be willing to toss out net neutrality in a race to regulate online video services. The issues raised in the consultation:


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Canadian Media Production and Music Groups Calls for New Rules for Netflix, Google, ISPs

Canadians love Internet success stories such as Netflix and Google as recent data indicates that millions now subscribe to the online video service and Google is the undisputed leader in search and online advertising. The changing marketplace may be a boon to consumers, but my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that it also breeds calls for increased Internet regulation. That is particularly true in the content industry, with the film and music sectors recently calling for rules that would target online video services, Internet providers, and search engines.

The Canadian Media Production Association, which represents independent producers of English films and television shows, recently told a Senate committee that new rules are needed to address the threat posed by popular Internet video services such as Netflix. The CMPA argued that a "level playing field" is needed to ensure that there is "choice, diversity and growth in a more open market place."


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It's (Almost) Here: Why the Canadian Digital Strategy Takes Shape With Budget 2014

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post about how the Canadian digital economy strategy seemed to be taking shape. The government had moved on several legislative issues including copyright and spam, it was bringing together federal and provincial ministers to discuss the issue, the open government initiative was on the way, and telecom policy was beginning to emerge as a major concern. All that was missing was an announcement, identification of some targets, and the signal that this was a priority. While I'm told that some in government also saw it this way, then-Industry Minister Christian Paradis let the moment slip away and the entire digital strategy become little more than a punchline.

Yesterday's federal budget marks the revival of the Canadian digital strategy. The government will undoubtedly still point to past accomplishments (the budget references reforms that date back to the 2006, so digital economy activities from several years ago are surely fair game), but this budget provides many of the remaining ingredients for a digital strategy (Mark Goldberg offers a similar perspective). Once again, all that is left is missing is the official announcement from Industry Minister James Moore. So what will the Canadian digital strategy contain? Based on this budget, it would seem to include:


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