Monthly Archives: June 2009

Buy your country a beer for Canada Day!

It’s Canada Day tomorrow, and is launching a fundraiser to help it build tools for open government.


For the cost of a beer, a pitcher, or a round, you can help Visible Government run its coming Code for Canada competition, create tools and websites that enable and promote government transparency and citizen engagement, work with similar organizations in other countries like in the UK and the Sunlight Foundation in the US, and work with public servants and others in government to encourage best practices for open government and citizen access to information.

Lots of people are already contributing. Join in, and use the hashtag #beers4ca to find others.

[Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Visible Government]

Tim Berners-Lee’s thoughts on putting government data online

Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has been focusing on helping governments put data online, and today he has some thoughts online on best practices and first steps.

Government data is being put online to increaseaccountability, contribute valuable information about the world, and toenable government, the country, and the world to function more efficiently.All of these purposes are served by putting the information on the Web asLinked Data. Start with the “low-hanging fruit”. Whatever else, the raw datashould be made available as soon as possible. Preferably, it should be put upas Linked Data. As a third priority, it should be linked to other sources. Asa lower priority, nice user interfaces should be made to it — if interestedcommunities outside government have not already done it. The Linked Datatechnology, unlike any other technology, allows any data communication to becomposed of many mixed vocabularies. Each vocabulary is from a community, beit international, national, state or local; or specific to an industrysector. This optimizes the usual trade-off between the expense and difficultyof getting wide agreement, and the practicality of working in a smallercommunity. Effort toward interoperability can be spend where most needed,making the evolution with time smoother and more productive.


This lawyer’s ethical issue about Facebook isn’t really about Facebook

The Lawyerist blog todaycovered the ethical dilemma of a Philadelphia attorney about using Facebook to collect information in alitigation:

The premise for the opinion is straightforward: a lawyer wanted toknow if he could have a non-lawyer assistant send a Facebook “friend”request to a witness for the opposing party in a piece of litigation.The lawyer apparently thought there were juicy tidbits to be found onthe witness’s Facebook  page (or at least information with impeachmentvalue) but did not think the witness would accept a friend requestdirectly from the lawyer (no surprise there—he had just recently takenher deposition). But the lawyer thought a friend request from anotherwise unknown assistant stood a good chance of being accepted.

The Philly opinion frowned on the lawyer’s proposal. It called ita “highly material fact” that the witness would be making a friendrequest without disclosing the real reason for the request. Inducingthe witness to respond favorably without that important fact would be adeception traceable to the lawyer, violating several ethics rules.


What is most important about the decision, Lawyerist notes, is that itis not really about Facebook at all. The issue facing the attorney inthis situation is a classic ethical problem that has always facedlawyers trying to collect as much information as they can inpreparation for a trial — they cannot send somebody out to collectinformation under the pretense that they are not associated with thelawyer. The article concludes, and I agree, that, “while it iscertainly possible for a lawyer to violate an ethics rule while usingsocial media, it is the lawyer’s conduct, not the medium, that willlikely be at the heart of the issue.”

Canadian Liberal Party supporting Network Neutrality

…Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau surprised Internet watchers by emphasizing the importance of an open Internet and declaring that the Liberal party now firmly supports net neutrality. The party has adopted a position opposing the management of Internet traffic that infringes privacy and targets specific websites, users and legitimate business applications.

The move represents an unexpected shift in policy direction just weeks before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is scheduled to conduct hearings on network management practices. For months, the NDP has stood virtually alone among the major Canadian political parties in its support for web neutrality.

With the Liberals onside, the door is open for a bipartisan effort this fall to enshrine net neutrality principles into law.

Is music downloading copyright infringement in Canada?

There’s some sparring going on in the copyright world between Michael Geist and Richard Pfohl of the Canadian Recording Industry Association. In a June 8, 2009 article “slaying” Canadian file-sharing myths, Michael Geist stated, “The law… opens the door to some legalized music downloading, but it does not cover other content (movies or software) or the uploading of any content.”

In response, Richard Pfohl wrote in a June 12 letter to the editor, “Downloading pirated music is not legal in Canada.”

Who’s right? Copyright lawyer Howard Knopf sorts it out:


So – copying unauthorized sound recordings obtained via P2P onto a 120 GB iPod Classic, for example, where the hard drive memory is permanently embedded (don’t even think about trying to take it out!) may indeed be infringing – because the iPod as a whole is a “device” and not a medium subject to the levy.

However, a PC internal hard drive that is not “permanently embedded” and particularly an external plug and play hard drive that is clearly not in any sense “embedded” in anything and serves no function other than to be a large memory medium may very well be “audio recording media.” In that case, downloading any sound recording onto them obtained in any way from any source for private use would be legal in Canada, regardless of whether a levy has ever been sought from the Copyright Board. This follows from what the Copyright Board said in 2003 at page 20-21 of this famous decision [PDF] and, contrary to Mr. Pfohl’s assertion, no Canadian Court has ever ruled to the contrary.
[emphasis from Mr. Knopf]


That’s right: That dedicated music device you have? The one that comes with software for ripping CDs and is sold by Apple, owner of the world’s biggest music store? It’s copyright infringement to download music and put it on that device. In fact, it’s copyright infringement to rip your own CDs if you’re putting them on your iPod or other mp3 player.

But an external hard drive that can’t play back music? That’s not embedded media, so it may not be infringement to download or rip music and save it there. Such is the paradox of copyright law in Canada today.

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Digital Britain action plan

Following up on yesterday’s post on the need for a digital strategy in Canada, the UK Department for Culture Media and Sport (roughly analogous to Canada’s Ministry of Heritage, which interestingly does also cover sport) released the UK’s digital action plan:

The report contains actions and recommendations to ensure first rate digital and communications infrastructure to promote and protect talent and innovation in our creative industries, to modernize TV and radio frameworks, and support local news, and it introduces policies to maximize the social and economic benefits from digital technologies.

The Associated Press reports on PM Gordon Brown’s statement about the Digital Britain report:

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today that high-speed Internet access has become as “indispensable as electricity, gas and water” for most of the public.

“Just as the bridges, roads and railways built in the 19th century were the foundations of an Industrial Revolution that helped Britain to become the workshop of the world, so investment now in the information and communications industries can underpin our emergence from recession,” he wrote in an op-ed piece for the Times of London.

Brown’s comments came ahead of the release of the government’s “Digital Britain” report, which was expected to propose major investments aimed at giving every home broadband access and suggest policies aimed at developing new jobs in the information and communications industries.

Michael Geist calls for a digital action strategy for Canada

Michael Geist is calling for a digital action strategy for Canada:

In recent months, there has been growing support for a national digital strategy. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission explicitly identified the need for a strategy in its “new media” decision as have leaders in the technology, telecommunications, broadcast, and education communities.

The issue now appears to be resonating within government. Industry Minister Tony Clement has convened a digital strategy summit later this month, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore has emphasized the importance of online platforms, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has pledged to support a national strategy.

Canada sadly has among the worst internet and telecom speed and pricing in the world, and second or third stage introduction of new technologies which are often rolled out in here last in the developed world. I agree with Geist’s conclusion that “Canada has fallen behind the curve”. We need to get in front of the next wave of the digital revolution, and doing that requires that we examine not only what the technologies, industries and users demand today, but where their trajectories are heading.

Software And Business Model Patents are different

Over at techdirt’s article about the Amazon decision, there is some confusion about the relationship between software patents and business model patents. I posted a comment to try to clear it up.

Business Method patents and Software patents definitely have a significant overlap, but they are not the same thing, at least in Canada, and this decision of the Patent Appeal Board does not have any significant bearing on software patents.

The leading case on software patents in Canada is Schlumberger Canada Ltd. v. Commissioner of Patents, (1981) 56 C.P.R. (2d) 204 (FCA), in which the Federal Court of Appeal considered a patent on a process of analyzing mining information using a computer. Mathematical formulae are not patentable, and the court found that using a computer to perform the calculation is not enough to make the process patentable. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, so the law in Canada is clear that software is not patentable. In practice, however, lots of patents are filed in Canada that are effectively software patents, and it is an area of some controversy.

So the leading case regarding software patents in Canada is clearly not about business methods. They are often related, but should not be confused.

Note that this decision of the Canadian Patent Appeal Board in the case is a lower level decision than the Federal Court of Appeal decision ruling against software patents in Schlumberger. We’ve seen that IP owners have still found ways to get software patents. We should not be too confident that this decision will stop business method patents either.

Sweden’s Copyfighting Pirate Party wins 1 seat (not 2) in European Parliament

When the Swedish Pirate Party was founded in early 2006, the majority of the mainstream press were skeptical, with some simply laughing it away. But they were wrong to dismiss this political movement out of hand. Today, the Pirate Party accomplished what some believed to be the impossible, by securing a seat in the European Parliament.

With 99.9% of the districts counted the Pirates have 7.1 percent of the votes, beating several established parties. This means that the Pirate Party will get at least one, but most likely two of the 18 (+2) available seats Sweden has at the European Parliament.

I don’t think Europe’s niche political parties are really analogous to our (mostly) more general policy parties here in Canada and the US, but it does show what an important force the “copyleft” movement has become. This win may mirror the success of Green parties in Europe long before environmental policy was taken seriously in North American politics. Our own parties should take notice.

UPDATE (2009-06-09): It looks like the Pirate Party will have one seat in the EP, with a second seat only if the Lisbon Treaty passes.

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