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Crystal Ball Gazing at the Year Ahead in Tech Law and Policy

Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 30, 2012 as The Year Ahead in Tech Law and Policy

Given that few would have predicted that Internet protests last year would have led to the defeat or delay of legislation in the United States (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and Canada (Internet surveillance legislation) as well as spell the end for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Europe, a new round of predictions for what lies ahead amounts to little more than guesswork. With that caveat in mind, this week’s column provides a month-by-month look at what 2013 may have in store for technology law and policy.

January. The government opens the New Year by releasing proposed anti-spam regulations with promise that the long-delayed law will take effect by 2014.  The regulations leave no one satisfied as they water down the law with a host of new exceptions and exclusions that limit requirements for businesses to obtain consent before sending unsolicited marketing materials.

February.  The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission conducts a high profile hearing on the creation of a binding wireless code of conduct. The resulting code extends far beyond the initial expectations of the major carriers with new transparency requirements, restrictions on contractual terms, and obligations to unlock cellphones once a contract has concluded.

March. Thousands of Canadians begin receiving letters alleging copyright infringement from file sharing activities with demands to settle the claims for $1,500.  Rights holders do not sue those that refuse to settle, however, effectively acknowledging that a court would be unlikely to award much more than the $100 minimum now found in the Copyright Act.

April. Canada and the European Union conclude a comprehensive trade agreement as the Canadian government caves to European pressure on pharmaceutical patent reform. The changes are expected to add billions to provincial health care costs.

May. Industry Minister Christian Paradis unveils the long-awaited digital economy strategy with a plan to make Canada a global leader that can boast of universal, affordable access to high-speed Internet services. (just kidding – the proverbial Penske file will remain unfinished in 2013).

June. The copyright world gathers in Geneva as the World Intellectual Property Organization concludes negotiations on a treaty to enhance access for the visually impaired. The U.S. and E.U. offer continued resistance to the treaty with Canada largely silent throughout the diplomatic talks.

July. The government hits the reset button with prorogation and a cabinet shuffle. The change effectively kills both Bill C-12 (privacy reform) and C-30 (Internet surveillance).

August. The CRTC announces plans to revisit the issue of new media regulation during a fall hearing. Despite ongoing pressure for regulation of online video services such as Netflix, the Commission retains the exemption for the regulation of new media services.

September.  Industry Canada moves forward with its overdue spectrum auction. The auction rules frustrate incumbents and new entrants alike, with both claiming that they are unable to amass sufficient spectrum to offer new, competitive wireless services.

October. The deadline for concluding the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations comes and goes without an agreement. Participating countries, including Canada, maintain there has been “good progress” in the talks, but leaks suggest a growing divide over U.S. demands related to intellectual property and investor protections.

November. The University of Toronto and Western University, the first two Canadian universities to sign an agreement with Access Copyright in 2011, announce that they will not be renewing those licences as of 2014. The universities cite reliance on fair dealing as the reason for the decision.

December. The Supreme Court of Canada releases its decision in United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 v. Alberta (Attorney General), a case involving the constitutionality of privacy legislation that was argued before the court in June 2013. The court upholds the constitutionality of the Alberta privacy legislation, but sends a clear message that there are instances where privacy protections must be limited to avoid impeding free speech rights.

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

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