By Ryan Mallough - Monday, January 28, 2013 - 0 Comments
The new age of piracy
It’s being called the “copyright Armageddon,” a looming legal battle between manufacturers and the Internet, thanks to the increasing popularity of 3D printers. With some desktop units available for as little as $500, almost anyone can now print plastic items from the comfort of home—tools and toys, house decorations, even musical instruments. The possibilities seem limitless—and so, too, does the potential for piracy.
Internet piracy has been an issue ever since Shawn Fanning created the music file-sharing program Napster. Though Napster was shut down in 2001, after one of the biggest copyright battles in history, piracy has only spread, from music to movies and books. But until recently, online theft has been limited to data, not physical objects.
Now some file-sharing websites are taking advantage of what many expect to be the next digital revolution. Popular music and video downloading website the Pirate Bay has rolled out a database for 3D downloads. The 3D printers, which are about the size of a microwave, read the files—essentially a digital blueprint—and lay down thin layers of plastic from the bottom up to build objects. There are files that claim to print everything from a working “Nerf gun” to an iPod dock. Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM - 0 Comments
With the start of a new year, there’s no better time to review and reflect on the federal government’s complete and utter failure in providing leadership on digital issues. The country has been waiting on a digital strategy–a comprehensive plan for how Canada intends to compete in the global information economy–for years. For example:
“More than one hundred representatives from libraries, museums, archives, publishers, copyright collectives, the education community and government gathered last week in snowy Montebello, Que. for a national summit on a Canadian digital information strategy. The by-invitation-only event marked the culmination of a year-long cross-country effort to ensure that Canada is not left behind as our trading partners race to develop their own 21st century digitization plans.” – Toronto Star, Dec. 11, 2006
“Free access to government data and equitable access to the Internet itself are key to a prosperous digital economy, say many of those who took part in recent federal consultations. For two months, the government has been seeking public input on its strategy for a digital economy… [Industry Minister Tony Clement] did not provide a specific timeline, but suggested Canada would take about the same time as other countries, who have typically developed strategies in six to 18 months.” – CBC, July 14, 2010
“For over a year Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have been talking about the need to create a digital economic strategy for the nation, with Industry Minister Tony Clement promising to reveal details this spring.” – IT Business, Mar. 23, 2011
“I will launch a Canadian-made digital economy strategy by the end of the year.” – Industry Minister Christian Paradis, Aug. 28, 2012
If the government’s latest broken promise is any indication, the wait is going to continue, despite numerous consultations and reports having already taken place. For those paying attention to other countries and their digital strategies (New Zealand had one in 2005, Japan in 2001), it’s exasperating at best, infuriating at worst.
Yet, the government could do worse. It could, as many fear, release a digital strategy that is low on specifics and without any real teeth. Such a plan would be a disservice. Canada is already behind in many ways, from web usage by businesses, to Internet access pricing, to research and development spending, to venture capital access. There are many problems to be fixed, so any digital strategy must take specific actions to get the country back on the right track.
The other danger with any sort of digital plan is the tendency to throw money at a problem in the hopes that it’ll fix itself. That’s also the wrong way to go, since government-provided funds are often squandered without any concrete results to show at the end.
Most importantly, a digital strategy must be bold. There is no sense in aiming for the future if you’re not aiming high. Timidity has no place in such a plan.
The government has already heard from a broad range of Canadians as to what the country’s strategy should contain. Here is a list of 10 suggestions, some of which are repeated from submissions and some of which are my own additions. The list–sort of a set of New Year’s resolution for government–is by no means comprehensive, but it would make for a good starting point.
Technology Minister: Creating a cabinet ministerial position that would deal with all things technological would go a long way to showing the public that the government does indeed take digital issues seriously. Which it currently doesn’t, obviously.
Merge Telecom and Broadcasting Acts: Telecom and broadcasting technologies have converged, as have their owners, so why are the laws governing them still separate? Indeed, the government should move to liberalize foreign ownership in broadcasting the same way it did last year with telecom. Maintaining the restrictions does much to counter any positives introduced by telecom ownership liberalization.
Infrastructure regulatory holiday: Any new company that wants to build a telecom network in Canada, whether wired or wireless, gets a 10-year exemption from any regulations affecting access to that network (in other words, they won’t have to give access to third-party independent internet service providers). The holiday could be even longer for northern Canada, where things are even more dire. Some might say this is unfair to the likes of Bell or Rogers or Northwestel, but those companies got to build their networks and customer bases with government-granted monopolies. Such an exemption might seem especially intriguing to certain search engine companies that are currently building fibre networks in the United States.
Broadband targets: Speaking of which, the government should institute pricing, speed and usage targets that ISPs must reach within three years. The targets would be set based on projections of what will be needed to measure among the top countries at that time. Failure by the ISPs to hit the targets would result in the government launching consultations on how to structurally separate network owners from retail operations, and/or the feasibility of building a nationally-owned fibre network. Is this de facto regulation? Yes indeed, but it’s market forces that have caused Canada to fall behind. When the carrot doesn’t do the trick, sometimes you need to turn to the stick.
Internet access subsidies: With broadband simply being too expensive for many poorer Canadians, a simple subsidy program is needed –- if your household income is under a certain amount, the government pays part of your monthly Internet bill. Not only would this connect the people who need Internet access the most, it would also saddle the government with a continually escalating tab. If that doesn’t cause politicians to spur better Internet service and prices, nothing will.
Computer programs: In that vein, there are also too many households that don’t have computers, wherein Internet access would obviously not make a lick of difference. The digital strategy should outline a specific plan to work with private-sector companies to provide such households not just with computers, but with the training required to use them effectively. Certain individuals have expressed a desire to help on this front; these people should be sought and hired to lead such projects.
Tech export credits: Canadian businesses aren’t using the Internet enough to reach global markets, so applying further tax rewards on sales specifically made using digital means might spur some to finally take online expansion seriously.
Foreign recruiting: Going the other way, the government should step up recruitment in countries that have large numbers of the sorts of skilled people needed here. Universities have tried various recruitment drives over the years, but they can only promise students so much. Government is much better positioned to deliver such workers jobs, not to mention a life in Canada.
Incubators, incubators, incubators: The venture capital problem might actually be one that can be helped with money. With early-stage investment identified as a real issue for Canadian startups, the government could accomplish much by funding lots of technology incubation projects, where entrepreneurs can cut their teeth until they get noticed by proper VCs.
R&D tax breaks: The federal government should take a cue from the provincial governments of Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, which created a vibrant video game industry through tax breaks. Those governments attracted large multinationals by giving them big discounts on labour costs, with the result being thousands of new jobs. More importantly, an ecosystem of very talented developers has formed, with Canada now becoming a leader in independent game design. The same model should be used to attract multinationals to set up research and development centres, with similar benefits likely to result.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, January 4, 2013 at 2:49 PM - 0 Comments
A. You can die.
It’s not the friendliest tactic to take in a negotiation, nor the most likely to succeed. But it’s probably the only honest reply software developers can offer the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which has extended a conditional, possibly symbolic, olive branch to the tech community.
Tech law blog Groklaw reports that the United States Patent and Trademark Office is inviting developers to attend a duo of roundtable discussions on the future of software patents, to be held in New York and in the Silicon Valley next month. They’re calling it the “Software Partnership,” and the intention is to get developers’ input on how their broken software patent system can be fixed. Continue…
By Jesse Brown - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 1:19 PM - 45 Comments
If you’re a student, or if you consume a lot of music, movies and TV, or if you do fun stuff on the Internet, there’s a rather good chance the Conservatives’ Copyright Reform Bill will make you a criminal.
How? In plenty of ways. Here are a few:
- Your professor assigns you a digital course pack. It contains excerpts of copyrighted material, but because you’re using it for education, you get a pass. At least, that is, as long as you delete those files within 30 days of the end of class. If you keep them around to use for reference in your honours thesis, or if a stray copy makes its way onto your phone and you forget to erase it, then you’ve broken the law.
- You transfer your CD collection to your iPod. Two years later, you get a new iPod, and give the old one to your little sister. If you neglect to destroy your CD collection first, you’ve become a criminal.
- Just for giggles, you mash up some Thomas the Tank engine video clips with a Biggie Smalls song. You post the mashup to your blog, it goes mini-viral, and you make ten bucks and a few cents from Google AdWords hits. You’re now a commercial copyright infringer.
And that’s just for starters. There are many other harmless things millions of Canadians do in the privacy of their homes that will soon constitute copyright infringement. I’ll be back soon with a few more.
For now, here’s the bill. Have a read, and see if you can add one or two potential criminal scenarios of your own in the comments.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:51 PM - 15 Comments
With little joy or passion, newsrooms are gearing up to dutifully cover every aspect of an election that nobody really wants. For journalists, the coming weeks will bring nothing but grind, a decaying echo of something that once seemed important, exciting, even fun. Twitter is filled with their tears, the poor babies.
Do I seem glib? I am glib! Glib and glum. I have no pity for those who cover politics, because I’m too busy pitying myself. I cover copyright. And that means I’m stuck on “repeat” for years, not weeks. Continue…
By selley - Friday, June 13, 2008 at 1:22 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: Colby Cosh on science vs. big pharma; …Susan Riley on the residential schools
Let’s make this complicated
While the government apologized for what the aboriginal residential schools were, some pundits seem determined to focus on what they weren’t.
“Had government agents come to round up your kids and mine, I doubt we would have kept quiet about it for 80 years or more,” Lorne Gunter writes in the Edmonton Journal in praise of yesterday’s apology. But it’s important to recognize, he argues, that the system was “well-intentioned” and not harmful or destructive in every single case. Which is a fair point—a sense of proportion is important. But comparing modern “native skills training” programs to the “early form of such training” offered at residential schools, and asking how the program could have been “evil” then but “magnanimous” now is ridiculous. Surely no educational system that’s predicated on abducting its students from their parents has any claim to magnanimousness, no matter what good it accomplishes.
John Robson, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, welcomes the apology but rejects the notion that the residential schools were “responsible for the catastrophic collision between traditional aboriginal culture and European modernity.” This is a notion we’d not come across until Robson introduced it, but we’re happy to join him in declaring it bunk. He also “utterly reject[s] any suggestion that Canadian aboriginals were dwelling in Eden until the Europeans came and expelled them”—again, never heard that one before, but it sounds perfectly reasonable to us.