Technology law and policy is notoriously unpredictable and crystal ball gazing in Canada this year is particularly challenging given the current political and economic uncertainty. With that caveat, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) provides my best guess for the coming months includes the following:
January. The Copyright Board of Canada releases its much-anticipated decision on the copyright royalties payable by primary and secondary schools across Canada. The board reduces the fees based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s liberal interpretation of fair dealing, Canada's version of fair use. At the end of the month, the government's budget includes the expected stimulus package for the auto and forestry sectors, but there is little for the culture and technology sectors.
February. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission kicks off a busy year with its new media hearings. The positions are by-now well known – cultural groups seek the creation of a new ISP levy and increased regulation of Internet-based broadcasting, while most broadcasters and telecommunications companies support the status quo.
March. Secret negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement resume in Morocco. Calls for greater transparency fall on deaf ears as the U.S., Japan, and South Korea urge participants to keep the treaty under wraps and to conclude the draft treaty by year-end.
April. The U.S. Trade Representative releases its annual Special 301 Report on the status of global intellectual property laws. Canada once again finds itself in good company as it (along with dozens of other countries) is criticized for failing to pass new copyright reform legislation.
May. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada releases high-profile privacy findings involving deep packet inspection by Canadian Internet service providers and the privacy policies of leading social networks. The Commissioner identifies several key concerns and urges the companies to alter their practices.
June. Industry Minister Tony Clement introduces new copyright reform legislation. The bill is modeled after the failed Bill C-61; however, it includes several key changes that respond to some of the criticisms that emerged last year. The month is a busy one for Clement, who expresses frustration with the state of the Canadian wireless market and the slow transition to digital television by Canadian broadcasters.
July. The CRTC holds several days of hearings on network neutrality. Telecommunications companies argue that reasonable network management practices should not be regulated and that traffic shaping should be permitted. A broad coalition of consumer groups, independent ISPs, technology companies, and cultural groups urge the Commission to establish net neutrality ground rules.
August. Several Canadian provinces follow the Ontario and British Columbia lead by tabling legislation to allow for the creation of "enhanced" drivers licences that embed RFID technologies. The proposals raise the ire of the privacy and security experts across the country. Canadian provinces also continue to the push toward universal high speed Internet access services, with the majority of provinces unveiling plans to guarantee access to rural communities.
September. The federal government follows through on its 2008 campaign promise by introducing anti-spam legislation. The bill extends beyond spam by targeting phishing, spyware, and other Internet harms. The one-year anniversary of the do-not-call list also arrives – millions of Canadians have by-now registered their numbers, yet the volume of unwanted telemarketing calls has barely declined.
October. The CRTC releases its new media decision, which rejects the ISP tax proposal, but opens the door to Canadian content requirements for Internet-based broadcasting by regulated broadcasters. Meanwhile, Industry Canada releases a consultation paper on its next round of spectrum auctions.
November. Canadians head back to voting booths for the fourth federal election in six years. The election call kills the copyright and anti-spam bills, which do not advance through the Parliamentary process.
December. The CRTC releases its net neutrality decision, ruling that Canadian ISPs should provide subscribers with more transparent disclosures about their network management practices, but the Commission stops short of blocking Internet throttling. The decision stands in stark contrast to developments in the U.S., where Congress passes a net neutrality bill backed by President Obama. Meanwhile, ACTA negotiators use the year's fourth negotiation session to conclude a draft treaty, setting the stage for a major battle over the treaty in 2010.