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    The Letters of the Law: The Year in Tech Law from A to Z

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    Thursday December 27, 2012
    From the remarkable battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act to the massive public backlash against Internet surveillance in Canada, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. A look back at 2012 from A to Z:

    A is for Astral, the Canadian broadcasting giant that was to be sold to Bell Media for over $3 billion. The CRTC blocked the sale on the grounds that the companies failed to demonstrate the transaction was in the public interest.

    B is for Jean-Pierre Blais, the newly appointed chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Blais surprised the industry by adopting a strong pro-consumer approach during his first months on the job.

    C is for the Copyright Modernization Act, the copyright reform bill that received royal assent in June 2012.

    D is for Dean Del Mastro, the Peterborough Member of Parliament who raised the spectre of regulating online anonymity.

    E is for the European Parliament, which voted overwhelmingly to reject the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement after hundreds of thousands of Europeans protested against it.

    F is for FreeDominion.com, an online chat site that defeated a claim of copyright infringement involving the posting of portions of newspaper articles.

    G is for GeoCoder, a small Ottawa company that created a crowd-sourced database of Canadian postal codes. Canada Post objected to the database, filing a copyright infringement lawsuit.

    H is for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which seized bodog.com, a domain name owned by Canadian online gambling tycoon Calvin Ayre.

    I is for Industry Minister Christian Paradis, who failed to unveil a digital economy strategy, despite a commitment to do so by year-end.

    J is for Jones v. Tsige, a landmark Ontario Court of Appeal decision that recognized a new tort for invasion of privacy.

    K is for Keatley Surveying v. Teranet, a proposed class action lawsuit involving copyright claims over land surveys.

    L is for levies on microSD cards. After a copyright collective asked the Copyright Board of Canada to impose new fees on the cards, the government issued a regulation effectively blocking the request.

    M is for McMaster University, one of several Canadian universities that were hit by security breaches.

    N is for Nexopia, a Canadian social media service that was found to have violated privacy laws following a lengthy investigation by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

    O is for an open textbook initiative launched by the British Columbia government that will support the creation of dozens of new freely available online textbooks.

    P is for the constitutionality of privacy legislation, which was thrown into doubt in United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 v. Alberta (Attorney General), an Alberta Court of Appeal decision.
     
    Q is for the Queen v. Cole, in which the Supreme Court confirmed that privacy rights survive in the workplace.

    R is for Rogers v. SOCAN, one of five copyright cases released by the Supreme Court in July 2012 that shook up the Canadian copyright landscape.

    S is for the Stop Online Piracy Act, the controversial U.S. legislation that sparked global protests including a Wikipedia blackout.

    T is for TellVicEverything, the grassroots Twitter campaign protesting against Canadian Internet surveillance legislation.

    U is for Untied.com, a gripe site about United Airlines run by Jeremy Cooperstock, a McGill professor. United demanded that Cooperstock take the site down due to trademark and copyright claims.

    V is for Voltage Pictures, which launched proceedings to obtain personal information on thousands of Canadian Internet users alleged to have downloaded its films.

    W is for a wireless code of conduct, which the major wireless carriers asked the CRTC to establish after several provinces moved to create provincial codes.

    X is for dot-xbox, one of thousands of proposed new domain name extensions.

    Y is for Yelp, the review site that hosted criticisms of an Ottawa restaurant that ultimately led to a criminal libel conviction after the restaurant owner sought revenge for the negative review.

    Z is for Judge Russell Zinn, a federal court judge who confirmed that the patent for Viagra was invalid days after the Supreme Court voided the patent for failing to provide sufficient disclosure.
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    Supreme Court Will Lead Tech Law in 2011

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    Tuesday January 11, 2011
    Predictions about the upcoming year in technology law and policy in Canada are particularly challenging given the prospect of a possible election.  My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that while there is no shortage of potential new laws - bills on privacy, copyright, and lawful access are all before the House of Commons - an election call before the fall would likely mean that those bills would die on the order paper.

    With political uncertainty clouding even the best crystal ball, the Supreme Court of Canada is set to emerge this year as the place where much of the action will take place.  Canada’s highest court has lined up a tech-heavy docket that will have a major impact Canadian law.


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    Supreme Court Will Lead Tech Law in 2011

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    Tuesday January 11, 2011
    Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 9, 2011 as Supreme Court Will Lead Tech Law in 2011

    Predictions about the upcoming year in technology law and policy in Canada are particularly challenging given the prospect of a possible election.  While there is no shortage of potential new laws - bills on privacy, copyright, and lawful access are all before the House of Commons - an election call before the fall would likely mean that those bills would die on the order paper.

    With political uncertainty clouding even the best crystal ball, the Supreme Court of Canada is set to emerge this year as the place where much of the action will take place.  Canada’s highest court has lined up a tech-heavy docket that will have a major impact Canadian law.

    First up is a series of decisions arising from hearings last fall.  These include Masterpiece Inc. v. Alavida Lifestyles Inc., a trademark law case that raises questions about the standard for likelihood of confusion between two competing trademarks. There are also several cases involving access to government information under the Access to Information Act. With the mounting interest in open government and access to public documents, the cases will help identify how far the current legislation extends.

    The most anticipated Internet law decision is Crookes v. Newton, a case that will determine the potential liability for hyperlinking.  Given the widespread use of links in emails, webpages, Facebook updates, and Twitter postings, the prospect of being held legally responsible for the content on the page being linked to could have a chilling effect on Internet speech.  

    The court has already agreed to address at least two additional cases this year with major implications for the Internet.  In March, it will be asked to consider the limits of Internet jurisdiction in an appeal of Black v. Breeden, Conrad Black’s lawsuit over postings such as press releases and reports on the Hollinger International, Inc. website that he claims were defamatory.

    When Black sued the company’s directors, advisers, and one company employee for defamation in Ontario, the defendants in the case brought a motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that the province was not the appropriate venue for the case since both Hollinger and Black are located in the U.S.  In a unanimous decision issued last summer, the Ontario Court of Appeal sided with Black, noting that the press releases posted on the Internet specifically provided contact information for Canadian media and that the company "clearly anticipated that the statements would be read by a Canadian audience and invited Canadian media to respond."

    Later this year, the court will hear at least one case that examines the scope of the Copyright Act’s fair dealing provision. At issue is whether "research" within fair dealing can be extended to song previews that are made available on sites like iTunes where a consumer can freely listen to roughly 30 seconds of a song.  

    The Copyright Board of Canada ruled in 2007 that a broad and liberal interpretation of fair dealing meant that it could be included since the preview was effectively consumer research on whether to purchase the song.  The Federal Court of Appeal affirmed the Copyright Board's interpretation last May, opening the door to many other consumer research possibilities under the current fair dealing provision.

    With a second fair dealing case involving copying in schools also a distinct possibility for a high court hearing, the Supreme Court is set to play a lead role in technology law in 2011 regardless of what transpires on the political front.

    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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    The Letters of the Law: 2010 in Tech Law from A to Z

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    Tuesday December 28, 2010
    The past twelve months in law and technology were exceptionally active, with the passage of anti-spam legislation, record penalties for violating the do-not-call list, and relentless lobbying on new Canadian copyright legislation. A look back at 2010 from A to Z (Toronto Star version, homepage version):

    A is for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which concluded in October with a watered-down treaty after the U.S. caved on several controversial Internet issues.

    B is for Black v. Breeden, an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling involving postings on the Hollinger International, Inc. website that Conrad Black claimed were defamatory.

    C is for Crookes v. Newton, the high-profile Supreme Court case that addressed the liability hyperlinks between websites.
                            
    D is for the do-not-call list, which gained new life when the CRTC pressured Bell into paying $1.3 million for multiple violations of the list rules.

    E is for the Electronic Commerce Protection Act, the initial name of Canada’s anti-spam legislation that received royal assent in December, six years after a task force recommended new Canadian spam laws.


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