Crystal Ball Gazing at the Coming Year in Tech Law

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.


  1. November?
    I’d be interested to hear why you think an election will take place in November. Any earlier?

  2. Re: David
    I’ve predicted this as well. Canadians will be on the sidelines watching Obama pass policies with regards to economic and social issues that seem to be working quite well. In Canada we’ll have an extreme right Government with stark contrasts in policies and ideologies. Basically we will start to fall behind the US on several key issues, which include the Economy, Environment, Technology, and possibly Job growth. Canadians will start to see the Harper Government as pushing policies that were similar to the failed Bush policies. The Next government I can say with 100% certainty will be Liberal (possibly a slim majority).

    The reason for the November election call: Gives time for the Canadian people to realize that the Conservative platform will not work and see the gap between the US and Canada widen on several key issues Canadians care about. Also it will give time for Canadians to get more acquainted with Ignatieff, and the liberal party to produce it’s platform for the next government which will mirror closely to that of Obama’s. Harper also may not be the leader of the Conservatives going into the next election. The party faithful are keeping a close eye on him at present because of the turmoil over the past month. He may be replaced before the next election depending on how fast Ignatieff rises in the polls in 2009.

  3. Alan McCracken says:

    Canadian Voter – Winnipeg
    Quoted line: “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.”

    This particular theme always shows up when copyright law discussions come up. In theory Canada is a democratic country where the public votes, through their elected parliamentarians, to accept proposals to become laws. If we do not ‘fall in line’ with other countries because of a democratically determined decision, why the criticism?

    Why are we (Canada) demonized by some groups because we have not fallen in line with copyright laws of other countries?

    The proposed Conservative copyright legislation, unfortunately, wasn’t drafted with input from all affected groups and the public at large. Did I say we are a democratic country? This government typically acts to please their friends both in Canada and in the USA. All flavoUrs of government do this to some extent but the Conservatives are very blatant about it.

    I was of the understanding that the government acts for the VOTERS (citizens) not just the few, powerful non-voting corporations and private interest groups who did not put them in power. By all means have these groups represented in hearings etc. but include ALL interested parties. If backward, repressive legislation comes out of this, well, that is democracy.

    At my age, this re-education is difficult.