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    How Canadians Reclaimed the Public Interest on Digital Policy

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    Tuesday November 06, 2012
    The fall of 2007 was a particularly bleak period for Canadians concerned with digital policies. The government had just issued a policy direction to the CRTC to adopt a hands-off regulatory approach even as consumer prices for Internet and wireless services were increasing. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety held a semi-secret consultation on Internet surveillance where mandatory disclosure of subscriber information was assumed.

    Moreover, the CRTC had largely rejected mounting concerns with the way Internet providers managed their networks (often called network neutrality), there were doubts about new wireless competitors entering the marketplace, Industry Canada had seemingly no interest in developing anti-spam laws or updating privacy legislation, the government agreed to participate in negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and a copyright bill with virtually no user-oriented provision was being prepared for introduction.

    My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that fast forward five years later and the CRTC has now positioned itself as a staunch defender of the public interest with consumer concerns at the centre of its policy making process, a lawful access bill was introduced in the spring but is viewed as politically dead, the CRTC has crafted and enforced new net neutrality rules, anti-spam legislation has been enacted, there are several new wireless providers and the removal of most foreign investment restrictions, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is discredited after being rejected by the European Parliament, and copyright reform is set to take effect this week with a host of user safeguards and rights.


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    How Canadians Reclaimed the Public Interest on Digital Policy

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    Tuesday November 06, 2012
    Appeared in the Toronto Star on November 4, 2012 as How Canadians Reclaimed the Public Interest on Digital Policy

    The fall of 2007 was a particularly bleak period for Canadians concerned with digital policies. The government had just issued a policy direction to the CRTC to adopt a hands-off regulatory approach even as consumer prices for Internet and wireless services were increasing. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety held a semi-secret consultation on Internet surveillance where mandatory disclosure of subscriber information was assumed.

    Moreover, the CRTC had largely rejected mounting concerns with the way Internet providers managed their networks (often called network neutrality), there were doubts about new wireless competitors entering the marketplace, Industry Canada had seemingly no interest in developing anti-spam laws or updating privacy legislation, the government agreed to participate in negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and a copyright bill with virtually no user-oriented provision was being prepared for introduction.

    Fast forward five years later and the CRTC has now positioned itself as a staunch defender of the public interest with consumer concerns at the centre of its policy making process, a lawful access bill was introduced in the spring but is viewed as politically dead, the CRTC has crafted and enforced new net neutrality rules, anti-spam legislation has been enacted, there are several new wireless providers and the removal of most foreign investment restrictions, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is discredited after being rejected by the European Parliament, and copyright reform is set to take effect this week with a host of user safeguards and rights.

    While many remain skeptical, the shift toward the public interest in the development of Canadian digital policies ranks as one of the most remarkable policy transformations of the current Conservative government. The change is not absolute - Canada caved to U.S. pressure on several copyright issues, delayed implementation of the anti-spam bill due to corporate lobbying, and is negotiating new trade treaties that could undo much of the recent progress - but the state of Canadian digital policy is far better than anyone could have reasonably anticipated several years ago.

    There are undoubtedly many factors behind the shift, but topping the list was the confluence of three inter-related developments.

    First, Internet and digital policy issues went from niche issues to the mainstream since the rules associated with Internet access, wireless services, social media, user generated content, and privacy became far more personal with implications for millions of people. Digital policy may have once focused chiefly on commercial concerns attracting limited public attention, but the public has increasingly connected these policies to their own lives.

    As a result, thousands of Canadians participated in a 2009 copyright consultation, more than 500,000 people signed a petition on Internet billing, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Europe to protest against ACTA, and the government faced an overwhelming backlash against its Internet surveillance plans.

    Second, the Internet was not only a serious concern for many Canadians, but it also provided the mechanisms to ensure their voices were heard. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, blogs, and online video provided an avenue for Canadians to become informed about the issues and the means to speak out.

    Third, the government gradually realized that missteps on digital policy could be politically costly, while good policy was also good politics. The payoff may be slow in coming, but the emergence of digital policies that prioritize public concerns leave opposition parties with less ammunition for criticism and the promise of greater competition and innovation.

    Many have been quick to dismiss the public voice on digital issues, deriding Canadians that speak out as seeking a free ride, or being uniformed or ignorant of the complexity of the issues. The same groups often simply ignore those views altogether, as if the public submissions were just noise with no discernible impact.

    Yet the Canadian experience of the past five years demonstrates a clear shift in approach with legislation, regulation, and policy outcomes that once seemed highly unlikely. The public interest will not win out on every issue, but its impact is evident throughout the digital landscape.

    Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.


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    CIRA and the Public Interest

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    Tuesday September 07, 2010
    Zak Muscovitch, a Toronto domain name lawyer running for the CIRA board, has an interesting article on the dot-ca administrator and the public interest.
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    In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law Published

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    Wednesday September 28, 2005
    I am delighted to report that In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law has been published and is now available for purchase or free download under a Creative Commons license (I should note that all royalties will be donated to Creative Commons).

    I have great hopes for this book as I believe that by bringing together 19 experts from across Canada for a peer-reviewed, 600-page text on Bill C-60 and future Canadian copyright reform we will succeed in raising the quality of the copyright debate and ensure that there is a voice for non-partisan experts who are committed to copyright in the broader public interest.

    The book divides the 19 contributions into three parts. Following my introduction, part one contains three essays (Murray, Scassa, Tawfik) that place Canadian copyright reform in context.  

    Part two features eleven essays on Bill C-60 including four contributions on TPMs (deBeer, Bailey, Kerr, Geist), two on education issues (Trosow, Wilkinson), and individual articles on RMI (Perry), making available (Fewer), ISP issues (Hamilton), performers' rights (Sundara Rajan), and photographers' issues (Cameron).

    Part three turns to the future of Canadian copyright reform with five exceptional pieces on fair dealing (Craig), user rights (Drassinower), copyright term (Lametti), extended licensing (Gervais), and crown copyright (Judge).

    I' m grateful to all the contributors who put aside other commitments to get this done in an incredibly compressed time frame, to the peer-reviewers who provided great feedback, and to Irwin Law, for embracing not only the opportunity to publish a book on Canadian copyright but to adopt the Creative Commons license.

    As we embark on a debate on the future of Canadian copyright, we need to hear from our own experts in their voice.  This book moves us in that direction.  Buy it or download it, but most of all read it.


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