Contesting Bill C-32

October 28th, 2010
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I went to a “debate” about Canada’s current copyright bill, C-32, at hosted by the Ryerson Commerce & Politics Association. The debate featured David Fewer of CIPPIC and Kevin Moore, federal Conservative candidate for Toronto—Centre and was to focus on three issues: the impact of the bill on students, an overview of the proposed changes, and the effect of the legislation on consumers.

The format suffered from the contrast in the backgrounds of the speakers. From David’s bio, he is an “intellectual property and technology lawyer, and brings a decade of practice experience to CIPPIC’s advocacy on intellectual property and technology files.” Meanwhile, Kevin is “a church minister and Executive Director of [not-for-profit] City of Hope.” While both speakers were well spoken and courteous, only David was an expert on the subject matter. Kevin admitted to as much at the beginning, telling us that he’d had about three weeks to read up on the issue. He was a likable guy and tried, but he was pretty much restricted to reiterating the party line on the bill. “Honouring international obligations” was one of the talking points.

David had a more nuanced analysis of the bill, opening by sharing some of the positives he saw in the bill (e.g. parody & satire exceptions) and criticizing what he saw as the issues. He highlighted three big issues. First, the ban on anti-circumvention technologies is problematic because it creates a “fourth layer of protection” on top of copyright, contract, and technology. As an example of the effects of enshrining digital locks in law, the bill would finally make it legal to rip CDs, but it would be illegal to rip DVDs because they’re encrypted. The second issue was peer-to-peer sharing, making the argument that it is happening, and the bill should find some way to help creators get paid rather than creating avenues for them to be litigious. He pointed out efforts at a collective approach by the Songwriters Association of Canada as an example. Finally, he found the education exceptions unnecessarily limited.

After the formal and informal portions of the session, the speakers took questions. I asked a broad question about term length, sneaking in a reference to some economic analyses that point towards shorter terms being better. David pointed out that the bill contains two small term extensions, and elaborated on the photography one. Basically, right now copyright in photos is 50 years. This makes it easy to figure out if an image is in the public domain simply by looking it and dating the contents. So as an example, a picture of the Toronto skyline without the original Commerce Court building (built 1930) is at least 80 years old, so we can tell from a glance that it’s in the public domain. However, the bill seeks to convert photos to life of the author + 50, which would make things more difficult for archivists, librarians and others who routinely work with older photographs.

I would have liked to ask some questions of Kevin, but didn’t get the chance. To me, a term extension like that isn’t very conservative; I’m curious how it fits in with conservative ideology.


Geotagging: A talk at HOPE

July 23rd, 2010


I went down to HOPE in New York to give a talk called “Geo-tagging: Opting in to Total Surveillance.” The title is a bit over the top, but that’s what hacker cons are all about. I gave an overview of my thesis project (working title Twitterography) and I explained the sort of data mining that is possible with geotags. I’m not all doom and gloom though: I talk about about some of the benefits. For example, during the recent Toronto G20 meeting, Twitter was the go-to source for live information and geotags were a powerful tool for visualizing what was going on. The important thing to remember is that:

One geotag is anecdote; many geotags are data.

This data can be used for nefarious purposes (to figure out where you are at 6pm and rob you) or for beneficial purposes (to figure out how bad traffic is in your neighbourhood). Get the slides here and give them a read, or download a torrent of a video of the talk. There’s a good post on Forbes covering it as well, give it a read. Excerpt:

Vet analyzed thousands of geotagged tweets and used a “clustering” algorithm to group them into geographic zones. Then he used words like “couch,” “home,” “TV,”  “dog” to determine which of those clusters is likely the user’s home. Other word clues helped him make educated guesses at his or her workplace.

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Apparently blind to the irony

April 21st, 2010
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The Globe and Mail carried an article called “Changing Canada’s tune on copyright law” giving Toronto jazz singer Sophie Milman an outlet to argue in favour of tougher copyright laws in Canada. The article hits all of the usual themes.

The standard false dichotomy:

It’s a long-running debate, pitting artists, record companies and the like against a new class of Internet companies and consumers who keep finding ways to download copyrighted music without paying.

The standard Canada-as-backwater:

“We are lagging behind, no question about that. Fairly or not, Canada is constantly being placed on intellectual property watch lists as being a piracy haven”

The funniest part is the opening. Sophie Milman, arguing in favour of stronger protections, has this conversation immediately after playing someone else’s song:

The impromptu midday jam session in a deserted corridor of Toronto’s Royal York Hotel was arranged for the benefit of a Globe and Mail photographer, who snaps away as the couple launch into a bouncy version of My Baby Just Cares for Me, made popular by Nina Simone.

Hopefully she paid up.

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Misleading slides in IFPI slideshow

March 26th, 2010

The IFPI has a slideshow set to music (hopefully licensed!) with some stats on music downloads. I want to look at two of the slides in particular, to discuss how they fail to paint a usable picture despite seeming damning.

France has seen an almost 2/3 reduction in local releases since 2002The relevant fact is that “France has seen an almost 2/3 reduction in local releases since 2002″. On the face of it, this is damning. The impression we’re supposed to get is that 2/3 of people in the music industry in France must have lost their jobs! Likely this stat is only talking about major label releases. What about indie bands? Is the number up or down? Is their revenue up or down? Is there more or less local music available to French listeners through all channels? They don’t tell us. And that stat is interesting but ultimately useless without more information.

In Spain there has been a 65% drop in local top 50 albums since 2004On this slide, we’re told that “In Spain there has been a 65% drop in local top 50 albums since 2004″. What does this even mean? A drop in what measurement? Sales? Dollars? Pictures of elephants on the covers? For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re talking sales numbers here. What’s the revenue change across the entire industry? Are sales up in the bottom 999999999950 local albums? Is total revenue up? Are there more bands or fewer? Do we even care if top 50 sales are down if it means an increase in the total number of bands?

I hope I illustrated how facts and statistics can be (are are!) used to create an impression without actually conveying enough useful information to come to any reasoned conclusions about. I hope the IFPI releases a follow-up with all the details.

IP ,

Clarification: secret mandate for the Canadian ACTA negotiators

January 22nd, 2010
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I sent Trade an email asking them to clarify the non-existence of a mandate letter for the ACTA negotiating team. There is one, but it’s a mandate memorandum. For the record, let me note that letter and memo are synonyms and that the Access to Information Act requires the department to “make every reasonable effort to assist the person in connection with the request, [and] respond to the request accurately and completely” (4.(2.1)).

Procedural complaint aside, the conclusion of the response is that the ACTA negotiating team’s mandate is secret. Trade is negotiating a deal on the behalf of Canadian citizens who are not permitted to know what kind of deal they’re allowed to make. Parliament, once your vacation is over, please implement the Information Commissioner’s proposed fixes to the Act. It is insane that there’s a group out there empowered to commit Canadians to a course of action that they’re not allowed to know about in advance.

The actual response:

Since your request referred specifically to a “letter” that was described by MP Angus during Question Period, that is what our search was limited to.  As per our response dated January 14, 2009, a mandate in the form of a letter does not exist.  That is not to say that there is no mandate for the negotiations.

We have made some inquiries with officials in Trade, and they have advised us as follows:

A mandate is required, and it must be requested from Cabinet.  The request to Cabinet is made primarily in the form of a Memorandum to Cabinet which would include a description of the issues and proposed instructions for negotiators.  Cabinet would need to approve not only the request, but also the scope of the mandate as contained in the proposed instructions.

Please note however, the Memorandum to Cabinet is considered a Confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and is excluded under section 69(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act.

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