Last week’s CRTC decision on group licensing for the major Canadian broadcasters has the creative community in a panic, claiming that it could “mean the devastation of Canadian domestic [television] production.” The decision, which set a uniform spending requirement of 5 percent on programs of national interest (PNI, which includes dramas, documentaries, some children’s programming, and some award shows), means a reduction in spending requirements for some broadcasters. The Writers Guild of Canada fears that the decision could lead to a reduction in spending on PNI of $200 million over five years.
Groups have heaped criticism on CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, whose term ends next month. The WGC labels him a “Harper appointee”, while Kate Taylor says “he doesn’t leave much of a legacy for himself” and that “his piecemeal approach offers no consistent strategy to address the challenges facing Canadian television production in the Netflix age.”
Blais may have his faults, but claiming that he has not had a strategic vision for the digital age is not one of them. He recognized that the advent of the digital networks, an abundance of consumer choice, and the effective removal of longstanding analog protections for Canadian creators would gradually reduce the relevance of the regulator and leave it with two choices. The first – favoured by the creator groups – was to temporarily prolong the protections by extending Cancon regulations to Internet services and increasing regulatory costs on broadcasters. The second was to jump on the digital bandwagon, gradually removing the safeguards and creating a regulatory environment premised on competition at all levels – creators, broadcasters, and broadcast distributors. Anyone following the CRTC broadcast and telecom decisions in recent years knows that he chose the latter.
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The federal government placed a big bet in this year’s budget on Canada becoming a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), investing millions of dollars on a national strategy to support research and commercialization. The hope is that by attracting high-profile talent and significant corporate support, the government can turn a strong AI research record into an economic powerhouse.
Funding and personnel have been the top policy priorities, yet other barriers to success remain. For example, Canada’s restrictive copyright rules may hamper the ability of companies and researchers to test and ultimately bring new AI services to market.
What does copyright have to do with AI?
My Globe and Mail column notes that making machines smart – whether engaging in automated translation, big data analytics, or new search capabilities – is dependent upon the data being fed into the system. Machines learn by scanning, reading, listening or viewing human created works. The better the inputs, the better the output and the reduced likelihood that results may be biased or inaccurate.
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As Canadian officials prepare for the forthcoming NAFTA renegotiation, changes to Canada’s border measures provisions seem likely to surface as a U.S. demand. Late last month, the USTR released its annual Special 301 report and the issue of Canadian anti-counterfeiting law – in particular, the absence of provisions to allow for the search of in-transit shipments that are not bound for Canada – topped the list of concerns. The U.S. report states:
The United States remains deeply concerned that Canada does not provide customs officials with the ability to detain, seize, and destroy pirated and counterfeit goods that are moving in transit or are transshipped through Canada. As a result, the United States strongly urges Canada to provide its customs officials with full ex officio authority to address the serious problem of pirated and counterfeit goods entering our highly integrated supply chains.
The U.S. position has garnered some support in Canada. For example, a recent Globe and Mail editorial urged the government to change the 2014 anti-counterfeiting law by granting customs agents the power to search and seize shipments that are not bound for Canada.
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The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report last week providing its estimate on the economic impact of the Canada – EU Trade Agreement. While the Liberal government made CETA its top trade priority when it came into office (and the Conservatives claimed that the deal would add $12 billion to the Canadian economy), the PBO report concludes that the economic benefits will be modest at best.
The report devotes a full chapter to CETA’s intellectual property provisions, particularly the patent related rules that will have a direct impact on the pharmaceutical industry. CETA establishes patent restoration and patent appeal rules that will extend the term of patent protection for pharmaceutical products, thereby increasing consumer prices and royalty outflows. With a regulatory framework designed to address pricing in place, the report focuses on increased royalty outflows with extended protection.
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Last month, I wrote about the recent initiative to revive lawful access, the rules that govern police access to Internet and subscriber information. A cybercrime working group has held consultations (I participated in one) as law enforcement seeks new powers for warrantless access to some ISP information (called “pre-cursor” data) and a new, lower threshold warrant for other subscriber data. While law enforcement has argued that the current system is broken, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security has recommended that the current approach remain unchanged.
The committee’s much anticipated report on developing a road map for national security contains dozens of recommendations (my colleague Craig Forcese reviews many of them) including one on lawful access. It states:
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