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The Letters of the Law: The Year in Canadian Tech Law

Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 18, 2006 as Decisions, Disputes that Shaped Technology in '06

This past year in law and technology has been marked by a series of noteworthy developments including the explosive interest in user-generated content, the emergence of several artists-backed copyright coalitions, and the arrival of Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, who has focused on reshaping Canadian telecommunications regulations.  From A to Z, it has been a remarkably busy twelve months.

A is for AOL, which committed the year’s most spectacular privacy blunder when it released search data on thousands of its users.  While the company attempted to anonymize the data by removing the searchers’ identities, reporters at the New York Times had little trouble piecing together the bits of information to identify Thelma Arnold, a 62 year old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia.

B is for the Barbie trademark, which was at the centre of a legal dispute over whether holders of famous trademarks could stop businesses from using the names in unrelated commercial activities.  The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that they could not, affirming the limits of trademark law that prevent rights holders from claiming a total monopoly for all goods and services in their name.

C is for Captain Copyright, a comic book character created by Access Copyright to promote its vision of copyright law to grade school children.  In the wake of vociferous criticism from education and library groups, the Captain was removed from the Internet and is currently undergoing a major re-write.

D is for Desire2Learn, the Waterloo-based software company specializing in online education tools.  Blackboard, a U.S. rival, sued the company for patent infringement.  The suit, which is still before the courts, greatly angered both the academic and open source software communities.

E is for patent evergreening, a practice used by pharmaceutical companies to extend the life of patent protection by adding new patents of marginal significance to expiring patents.  The Supreme Court of Canada struck down an attempt to evergreen in a battle between AstraZeneca and Apotex, a Canadian generic pharmaceutical company.

F is for freelance writers, who won a lengthy battle with the Thomson Corporation over the right to be compensated for the use of their work in electronic databases.  The class action suit, led by Heather Robertson, took ten years to wind its way through the Canadian legal system.

G is for online gambling, which faces a stiff challenge with the introduction of new anti-online gambling advertising legislation in Ontario.  The law, which received approval from the Ontario legislature last week, prohibits advertising or linking to Internet gambling sites that primarily target Ontario residents.

H is for hate on the Internet, which was the subject of an unusual request to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.  The CRTC was asked to grant ISPs the ability to block access to a single, U.S.-based hate site that threatened to kill a Canadian anti-hate activist.  The CRTC declined to grant the request on the grounds that all concerned parties were not afforded the opportunity to provide their views on the issue.

I is for the iPod, which was the focus of legal battles around the world.  Several countries introduced "iPod laws" that provide consumers with the right to copy their music to the popular devices, while others grappled with the consumer backlash posed by the lack of compatibility between the iPod and other online music services.

J is for Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, who issued noteworthy findings involving international financial data transfers and privacy issues associated with global positioning system services.  Stoddart also disappointed many in the privacy community by rejecting calls for significant reforms to Canada's national privacy legislation at a hearing in late November.

K is for Chantal Kreviazuk, one of hundreds of Canadian musicians who formed the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, a new copyright-focused coalition that opposes policies that promote lawsuits against individuals and the use of digital locks on music CDs.  The CMCC was joined by several other artist copyright coalitions in 2006, including Appropriation Art and the Canadian Documentary Organization.

L is for the LSAT, the standardized test required for admission to virtually every law school in Canada.  The LSAT attracted heated criticism after it was revealed that test takers were required to provide fingerprints prior to taking the test and that the collected data was stored in the United States and therefore subject to potential disclosure to U.S. law enforcement.

M is for the municipal wifi initiatives launched in dozens of communities throughout North America.  Toronto became one of the largest cities to move toward city-wide wireless Internet connectivity with a service that debuted in September.

N is for network neutrality, the hot-button Internet issue of 2006.  As several ISPs in Canada and the U.S. openly touted the potential for a two-tier Internet, opponents called on regulators and legislators to preserve a neutral approach with equal treatment for all content and applications.

O is for open access, the growing movement that focuses on providing the public with greater access to research and other academic publications.  Several Canadian funding agencies, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, introduced draft guidelines in 2006 that require researchers to make the results of their research available in an open access manner within months of initial publication.

P is for Project Cleanfeed Canada, a joint effort between Canada's largest ISPs and, a Manitoba-based entity focused on battling online child pornography.  Once operational, Project Cleanfeed will enable Canadian ISPs to block access to hundreds of child pornography websites identified and vetted by Cybertip.

Q is for Quebec, which along with Alberta and Nova Scotia, introduced legislation intended to restrict the transfer of personal information to the United States.  The new statutes come as fears mount that the U.S. Patriot Act could force entities to disclose the private data without notifying the targets of the requests.

R is for James Rajotte, the Conservative Member of Parliament who introduced a data fraud bill that seeks to penalize "pre-texting," a growing problem under which fraudsters impersonate individuals in order to obtain their personal information.

S is for a pair of Sony rootkit class action settlements, which received court approval in the fall.  In the wake of last year's rootkit debacle, class action lawsuits were launched across Canada as consumers sought compensation for the purchase of CDs that surreptitiously created a security threat on the computers of thousands of Canadians.

T is for the Telecommunications Policy Review Panel, which delivered its 400-page report to the Minister of Industry in the spring.  The report called for dramatic reforms to Canadian telecommunications regulation and was greeted warmly by the Conservative government.

U is for 18 Canadian universities that established Alouette Canada, an ambitious digitization initiative that is working to digitize thousands of Canadian texts, documents, and photographs that are currently in the public domain.

V is for VoIP, the increasingly popular Internet telephony technology.  VoIP services were the source of a public clash between the CRTC, which favoured limited regulation, and the Conservative government, which preferred a deregulated approach.  The government's view predictably prevailed.

W is for the World Intellectual Property Organization's draft Broadcast Treaty, which was unexpectedly opposed by the United States.  After months of relative silence, the Canadian delegation joined the U.S. in cautioning that the draft treaty was not ready to be finalized.

X is for the "x" placed by thousands of Canadians in municipalities that use Internet or electronic voting.  While some welcomed the convenience of electronic voting, critics expressed concern that it was subject to election fraud with few of the oversight and accountability mechanisms present in paper-based voting.

Y is for YouTube, the runaway success story of 2006.  With over one hundred million videos streamed daily, Google scooped up the service for US$1.65 billion, and proceeded to quickly strike licensing deals with many content owners whose material is being used to create new "user-generated" content.

Z is for Zingotel,  a U.S.-based VoIP provider that filed a complaint with the CRTC over Shaw Cable's refusal to carry advertising for a competing VoIP service.

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 or online at

One Comment

  1. none

    I really enjoyed your article ( Law Bytes) in the Toronto Star. It was my first time reading an article written by you as such and I found it to be very informative, concise and to the point. The thing I liked about it was that you managed to incorporate most of the technologies that have had some sort of an affect on our lives, and you managed to sort them all in an alphabetical order!

    Some ideas for your website:
    i- perhaps a podcast for ipod addicts like me
    ii- since you write about technology keeping law in perspective, I would be very interested in hear/readin(ing) your comments about subjects like: intellectual property, patent rights, broken system when it comes to the U.S patent office (USPTO.GOV) and it’s affect on the North American economy in the long run.


    Adeel Khan
    Mississauga ON
    adeelnkhan {at}

    Oh btw, the December 18 06 {print} edition of your article had a misprint. I dont know if you noticed, but Law Bytes was typed as “Law Bvtes” =)