The Canadian government announced plans for the development of a national IP strategy in this year’s budget. The Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development held a series of roundtables late last month and invited public comment. The comment period closed earlier this week and the submissions should soon be posted online. My submission is posted below.
Drawing on prior writing and committee appearances (and some overlap with NAFTA issues), the submission focuses on three broad areas: IP awareness, administration and fostering innovation. The innovation piece forms the majority of the submission with discussion of seven issues: knowledge transfer strategies, IP abuse and misuse, fair use/flexible fair dealing, anti-circumvention legislation exceptions, artificial intelligence, crown copyright and copyright term.
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This week Policy Options launched a new series on copyright reform with plans to provide perspectives from across the spectrum. I was delighted to write the first published piece, which starts by making the case that the Conservative government got far more right than wrong in 2012. Canadian copyright law is widely regarded as one of the most innovative in the world with unique, forward-looking provisions (non-commercial user generated content, notice-and-notice) and flexible fair dealing. The last five years have largely achieved what the government had in mind as the days of labelling Canada a “piracy haven” are over, the cultural industries such as movies and music are enjoying record earnings, and new digital services have found great success in Canada.
So, as Parliament prepares for a review of the law later this year, what’s next for Canadian copyright?
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On May 17, 2005, the National Task Force on Spam, which included stakeholders from the across the spectrum including the Canadian Marketing Association, ITAC, Bell, CAIP, and consumer groups, presented its final report to then-Industry Minister David Emerson. The unanimous report included the following recommendation:
There should be an appropriate private right of action available to persons, both individuals and corporations. There should be meaningful statutory damages available to persons who bring civil action.
The inclusion of a private right of action was no small matter. I was a member of the Task Force and recall discussion of lawsuits launched in the United States by large ISPs and Internet companies such as Microsoft and Amazon that had proven effective. It took nine years for the task force recommendations to become law when all parties – Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Bloc – supported the resulting legislation. The private right of action provision was to have taken an additional three years as the Conservative government chose to delay its implementation until July 2017 to give businesses three years to ensure compliance with Canada’s anti-spam law.
Yesterday, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains indefinitely suspended the private right of action before it could take effect. In doing so, Bains blocked important consumer redress for harmful spam and spyware that would have supplemented enforcement efforts overwhelmed by spam complaints. Bains indicated that the statutorily-mandated review of the law, which is required after three years, will be used to assess the law and the private right of action (the Canadian Federation of Independent Business holds out hope that it will be struck down permanently).
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Earlier this year, the Liberal government granted approval for the merger between BCE and MTS, eroding the competitive wireless market in Manitoba. In response, I argued in the Globe and Mail:
The Conservative government was criticized for failing to fix Canada’s uncompetitive wireless market, but at least it recognized the problem and did not shy away from challenging the Big Three. By contrast, Mr. Bains was faced with a sure thing – higher wireless prices for consumers and a less competitive, innovative marketplace – and blinked. Unless there are some new pro-competitive policies on wireless yet to come, the approval of the BCE-MTS merger guarantees that the government’s innovation strategy will start with a weak foundation.
It turns out, there was more to come. This week, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains put the wireless market back in the spotlight with a speech that left little doubt that the Liberal government has reached the same conclusion as its predecessor, namely that the Canadian wireless market continues to be marked by insufficient competition leading to high prices, low adoption rates, and a lack of affordability for consumers with low household income.
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Canada’s anti-spam legislation has long been the law that Corporate Canada loves to hate. Months before it was slated to take effect in 2014, there were ominous warnings about how regulation would bring commercial e-mail to a screeching halt, banning everything from large-scale business marketing efforts to emails promoting a neighbourhood lemonade stand.
My regular Globe and Mail technology op-ed notes that nearly three years later, e-mail marketing is alive and well in Canada as many have adjusted to the tougher privacy standards that require informed consent prior to sending commercial electronic messages. Moreover, in a world where malware and ransomware have become serious cybersecurity threats touching millions of Internet users, the inclusion of antimalware provisions has proven prescient since they give authorities the legal tools to participate in global enforcement efforts.
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