Archive for May, 2007

Museums and the Public Domain

The Associated Press has picked up on a story involving public access to images in the Smithsonian InstitutionPublic.Resource.Org has posted 6,288 images currently sold by the Smithsonian on Flickr (a book of the images can be downloaded for free from, arguing that the U.S. institution is overreaching by claiming copyright or control over images that are in the public domain.

The issue is an important one that should also resonate in Canada.  Some readers may recall the battle between a small school division in Manitoba and the National Gallery of Canada over fees levied for a public domain Paul Kane painting. In the wake of that incident, I've been working with some students to identify how Canadian museums address access to public domain works in their collections.  The research is not yet complete, however, the preliminary news is not good. 

Museums are strapped for cash and therefore use their physical control over images to levy fees over public domain works.  While a cost-recovery fee for digitization or administration is understandable, many institutions go much further charging "surrogate copyright fees" or "user's fees" for public domain works or deploy technology to limit the potential uses of digitized versions of those works. 

For example, consider Emily Carr, whose work entered the public domain in 1996. 

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May 23, 2007 1 comment News

Broadband Speeds and Competition

There has been an interesting discussion this week on Dave Farber's IP List comparing broadband speeds and linking that to the competitive environment.  The discussion, which references congressional testimony and an ITIF study, notes how much faster, cheaper, and more competitive broadband services are in countries such as Japan and […]

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May 23, 2007 2 comments News

There Will Be No Privacy Reform. Get Over It

My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) examines the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics' much-anticipated report on the reform of Canada’s private sector privacy law released earlier this month.  Despite hearing from 67 witnesses, the Committee followed the lead of Industry Minister Maxime Bernier and Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart – neither of whom argued forcefully for reform – by issuing a tepid report that rejects the changes that many privacy advocates believe are necessary to improve the effectiveness of the current legal framework.

Instead, the final report, which includes separate dissenting opinions from the Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs, features 25 recommendations that at best represent little more than tinkering with the law and at worst undermine privacy protections in several key areas, most notably the use of privacy law to counter the mounting spam problem. Most of the major issues presented to the Committee, including beefing up the Privacy Commissioner's powers, adopting a "name and shame" approach for privacy violators, and safeguarding Canadian data that is outsourced to other jurisdictions, were met with indifference, as the Committee recommended no further reforms. In fact, even a mandatory security breach notification requirement – widely expected as a response to the massive data security breaches involving retail giants Winners and Homesense – was tempered with a recommendation to require notification to the Privacy Commissioner, not necessarily to the individuals affected by the breach.

In fairness to the Committee, many of their recommendations appear to have been shaped by the inexplicably weak responses from Industry Minister Bernier (who is responsible for the legislation) and Privacy Commissioner Stoddart. 

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May 21, 2007 4 comments Columns

There Will Be No Privacy Reform. Get Over It

Appeared in the Toronto Star on May 21, 2007 as Privacy Report a Major Disappointment The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics issued its much-anticipated report on the reform of Canada’s private sector privacy law earlier this month.  Despite hearing from 67 witnesses, the Committee followed the […]

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May 21, 2007 Comments are Disabled Columns Archive

Comments RSS Feed Now Available

One of the most gratifying aspects of this blog has been the remarkable amount of feedback and commentary generated by some posts.  I know I'm late on this, but the blog now offers an RSS feed specifically for those tracking comments (in addition to a regular RSS feed and a […]

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May 19, 2007 1 comment News