Copyright Delay Demonstrates Power of Facebook

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses on the role of Facebook in encouraging the government to delay the introduction of new copyright legislation. Facebook has garnered considerable attention regarding its user privacy policies, online marketing strategies, and the short-sighted decision of some companies and governments to block employee access to the site. While these issues have shone the spotlight on some of the challenges of social media, the lasting lesson of Facebook may come from the copyright issues of the past two weeks as they demonstrate that Facebook is far more than just a cool way to catch up with old friends; rather, it is an incredibly effective and efficient tool that can be used to educate and galvanize grassroots advocacy, placing unprecedented power into the hands of individuals.

In this instance, Canadians increasingly recognized the detrimental effect of the proposed copyright reforms on consumer rights, privacy, and free speech, and were moved to act. I acknowledge that this scenario cannot be repeated for every issue.  Yet for similarly placed concerns, the lesson of the past two weeks is that politicians, companies, and other organizations can ill-afford to ignore a medium that is capable of mobilizing tens of thousands within a matter of days.  Those caught flatfooted may ultimately find themselves struggling to save face.


  1. I think it demonstrates the power of the Facebook format, but I wouldn’t hang long term change on Facebook. From where I sit, Facebook itself has jumped the shark. With the current deluge of advertisements and apps with no way to turn off either, the users are starting to be turned off. I sit right in the middle of the target demographic. Early 20s, recent University grad, mobile. In the past 3 months, I do not know anyone who has signed up for facebook. At this point, you are on it or you aren’t. And many are starting to look for an alternative. If a valid one shows, I give facebook 6 months before it is a ghost town, assuming no major changes take place.

  2. Jakub Sadowski says:

    Too Much Credit for Facebook
    I think you’re giving too much credit to facebook here, Michael. Your blog along with countless others provided the knowledge backbone as well as a much needed heads-up on this issue.

  3. Christopher Mercer says:

    Senior IT Consultant
    Dr. Geist. While Facebook has been instrumental in bringing the attention the ongoing copyright issues in Canada it is rather ironic that their user agreement allows them use, sell, relicense, and otherwise abuse the content uploaded by it’s users. Compare this with the user agreements for sites like, livejournal, myspace, etc, and Facebook seems to stand alone as a major online destination that has no problem “taking” our content (including imported RSS feeds) and having an global license to reuse this data at their whim. Including for profit uses where the creators only compensation is access to the site.

  4. I would agree with Jakub. I also believe Pr. Geist is giving too much credit to Facebook (and indirectly to his blog). Blogs, renewed interest by traditional medias combined with the end of the parliamentary session have all “helped” in delaying the introduction of this Bill. Lets also not forget that Prentice has been through a difficult ride lately (i.e. Spectrum allocation)

  5. Easy there Michael — Facebook as proved a useful discussion platform in this instance, but trumpeting it as “placing unprecedented power into the hands of individuals” is a little too close to suggesting that it is synonymous with democracy itself.

    You seem so willing to abandon your usually-careful thinking when it comes to thinking through the dangers of Facebookdom. Who owns the data you pump in? What of the low reliability in identity? The lack of accountability in group membership/participation. All the concerns boil down to the same thing: FB has been useful because lots of people use it. It has been (poorly) co-opted as a political advocacy platform, and I suggest you go back to the drawing board when thinking through the implications of this.

    A relevant post on this: [ link ]

  6. The one thing that is important to remember about the 2001 public consultations is that they ended in September of that year. In October 2001, Apple Computer released the first generation iPod. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that this one event changed the game as far as ordinary consumers were concerned. Any arguments or comments in the consultation submissions could not have included the far-reaching impact of a such seminal product. At minimum, new public consultations are required before new legislation is tabled and voted on.

  7. Chris Anderson says:

    I think maybe that Facebook is a reflection of Democratic process.

    Its like a mini-referndum that allows us a voice, without a costly vote.
    Even the politicians used Facebook to chagrin Prentice Hall.

    I think that if no-one really cared (which is often the case), nothing would have happened.

    At least here people are aware of the fact that we voted you in, and we can get you out, just as fast.

    Unlike the US. Where despite public dissent they are trying to pass an immunity law for the telephone companies.

    I personally agree with other viewpoints, that we hold ‘American values’ much more valuable then our current, mis-guided neighbors.

  8. Canadian Citizen
    In response to Ryan H’s comment about advertisements on Facebook:

    I hardly get any when I log in there.

    But I use Firefox as my browser with 3 different addons extensions:

    Adblock Plus
    Adblock Filterset.G Updater

    The majority of all advertisements are blocked. I also use NoScript to turn off google’s analytical program.

    This makes my web-surfing very enjoyable!