Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Backward laws around technology ownership make self-driving cars more dangerous

Canadian born science fiction author Cory Doctorow writes many excellent articles which try to wake people up to the real technology debates we should be having, recently discussing self-driving cars.  He makes the appropriate link to what I call "dishonest relationship misinformation" (DRM), which some incorrectly call Digital Rights Management due to a confusion on how technology works (they believe it is the interests of copyright holders being protected, when it is the rights of technology owners being revoked).

I always like to extend the discussion beyond questions about whether owners should be treated as threats to asking why we can't move away from these unethical questions to making the obvious ethical choice.  We never need to treat owners in an unethical (even if temporarily legally protected) way if we clarified who owns what.

If a vehicle is owned by a taxi company or municipal transportation authority, it is obvious that its passengers should not be legally allowed to modify the vehicles software.  There is no moral issue here, and the passengers know they are passengers whether there is a human or computer driver.  If they don't trust the organization providing the transportation, they can change transportation methods and/or lobby government to provide adequate regulation of these industries. Governments can properly regulate these industries to ensure passenger and public safety, just as they always had in other transportation industries such as airlines that have had driving assist for a very long time. These devices can also be more easily secured from unauthorized remote control given there is no reason to try to hide unauthorized software from the devices owner. The law can provide owners incentives to secure this technology, rather than backward laws making it illegal for owners to secure their own technology.  Ownership is clear, security is clear, regulations are clear, and the passenger can clearly understand their relationship with the mode of transportation they have chosen.

If a car is sold to an individual, and yet a third party (whether government or the manufacturer) wants to retain control, then we get into the very dangerous territory that Cory is discussing.  Terrorists breaking into the security of (by law required to be insecure) vehicles and using those remotely controlled vehicles as part of an attack is an obvious scenario for self-driving vehicles.  While we won't be counting the costs in lives lost, this does not mean we should ignore other technology.   The devices we use to communicate must also be treated with respect, even when they are multi-purpose and can be used for banking transactions as well as watch movies.  The same clear ownership options exist with communications as well as transportation technology.

What the entertainment industry has been duped into asking for, the legal protection of device manufacturers retaining control over devices sold to individuals, has established costs to society that go well beyond the theoretical (and unproven, un-demonstrated) benefits that copyright holders believe it has.

I consider the moral question to be simple:  We must modernize laws to make it clearly illegal for someone other than the owner of a device to be in control of that device.

Whenever someone asks for something different you should be asking about the morality of that individual or industry given they had a moral choice to make, and yet decided to be promoting the immoral option.  There are reasons why the entertainment industry was lobbying against anti-malware lawsThose industries want to run software in a way that is undetected by the owner of the device in order to verify that their content is not being "stolen".  But, this is precisely what malware does when it it steals passwords.  There is no moral difference between the entertainment industry malware from that written by credit card thieves.

I discussed these pro-infringement organizations in my submission to the parliamentary committee studying Bill C-11

Only once we modernize the law to properly handle basic technology ownership can we rationally approach dilemmas such as the Trolley Problem.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership would lock Canada into Harper's mistakes

The following is the text of a letter sent to our Prime Minister, my local MP, and a few key ministers.

The Right Honourable Justin P. J. Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Copies to:

David McGuinty, M.P., Ottawa South (my riding)

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade (asking for feedback on TPP)

The Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains,  Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (Non-owner locks on digital technology has great impact on this portfolio. Industry Minister listed as responsible for Copyright Act currently tainted with problematic policy)

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan,  Minister of Science (Support for problematic policy largely comes from science fiction belief of how technology works.  Policy needs scientific evidence based review)

Prime Minister Trudeau,

We met at your constituency office in July 2010, and you tweeted my summary of the meeting to your followers: https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau/status/19273983682

We discussed the then Harper Government copyright bill, with my emphasis being on the technological measures aspect of the Bill.   While I believe Harper made some serious mistakes in that part of the bill, I am writing you today to alert you to the fact that section article 18.68 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would lock Canada into Harper's mistake.

When talking about technological measures, what people often call "digital locks", it is important to understand that there are two locks and not one.

A lock on copyrighted works, nearly always in the form of "encrypted media", cannot do much on its own. Contrary to the common science fiction belief, copyrighted works can not "come alive" and decide to do things (to be copied or not, to self destruct after rental period, etc).  What encrypted media can do is try to tie the decryption and use of the media to devices that are "authorized" by the copyright holder.  Rather than this being a copyright issue, this is a competition law issue (section 77 tied selling) which has all the economic and other harm that requires competition law.

The more critical issue is that, while there are legitimate business arrangements available, the only devices that ever get "authorized" are locked in a way that treats owners as an intruder.  In no other aspect of our lives do we allow third parties to lock owners out of their property, and this should be explicitly prohibited with digital technology.  Discussing copyright in this context is a distraction as the relevant issues include property rights, software transparency and software accountability.  When discussing this policy I would often mention privacy and other human rights infringing telecommunications equipment, medical devices, online banking and retail, and technology used for voting.  More recent issues to add to the list are driverless vehicles, drones, and the Volkswagen emissions scandal. There have been demonstrations of intruders remotely disabling a Jeep while it was on a highway.

Non-owner locks on devices also disallow owners installing software that would extend the useful life of hardware, allowing hardware vendors to force premature hardware upgrades, which has a great impact on the environment.

As more and more aspects of our lives, including basic issues such as transportation, communications, privacy and public safety, are intermediated by computers we must enact legislation that protects software transparency and accountability.  Technologies such as encrypted media abused to tie the ability to access creative works to non-owner locked devices must be legally prohibited, not legally protected as under Harper's bill C-11.  Non-owner locks on devices must be legally prohibited, as owners and others can't have unjustifiable barriers to doing independent software audits.

There is a shorter-term fix to Harper's mistake:  The WIPO treaties never required Canada to enact legislation against "access control" technological measures, but instead required "use control" where the prohibition against circumvention had a direct tie to copyright infringing activities.  This is as it was written in the Liberal Bill C-60, and must be the direction Canada moves.  Unfortunately the TPP calls for "access control" technological measures, which must be rejected.  Canada needs to be actively working with our trade partners to move away from any support for "access control" technological measures, aggressively rejecting claims from extremists who are opposed to (or deliberately oblivious to) technology ownership, software transparency and software accountability.

The technological measures section of the TPP is in addition to article 14.17 which opposes basic software transparency and accountability, and which Stewart Baker (first Assistant Secretary for Policy at the USA's Department of Homeland Security) also suggests is "a bad topic for a trade deal" https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/11/06/cybersecurity-and-the-tpp/

The Harper government's promotion of the TPP was simplistic: Free trade is good, this is free trade, so therefore it is good.   The policies I oppose will reduce competition, increase barriers to trade, and reduce accountability for government procurement -- all policies which have no business being included in something alleging to be a "free trade" agreement.

I live in Ottawa South, and work on Wellington Street close to your parliamentary offices.  I can be made available to any minister, member of your caucus, or their staff, to discuss this issue further.

Russell McOrmond
[address removed]

Please share with your colleagues as this policy also has serious implications for other portfolios including Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Public Services and Procurement, Health, Transport, and National Defence.

Note: I quote Stewart Baker in the introduction page for the Petition to protect Information Technology property rights

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A (non)Copyright question in a Canadian federal election 2015 quiz.

On Monday many co-workers were circulating around a links to political quizzes.  I was asked what I thought about one that included a copyright related question, and if I was happy that Copyright was considered important enough to be part of one of these quizzes.

I would have been excited, except that what I found was one of those non-copyright related issues which people commonly lump in with copyright law -- including governments who add these non-copyright related issues to copyright acts.

The issue is so-called "digital locks", which when applied to content in the form of encrypted media are a competition law issues (Tied selling) and when applied to devices and software is a property law issue (IE: non-owners applying locks to things they don't own).

The wording of the question and the available answers were:

Should the government allow digital publishers to place locks on their content (MP3s, etc)?

I of course clicked "Add your own stance" and said "No, these locks should be considered illegal tied selling under competition law.  There has been no proof that these technologies benefit the interests of artists."

  • I obviously disagree with the unjustified "Yes"
  • Saying "No" over-simplifies the question and allows the presumption in the question that this is an issue that only or even primarily affects "digital publishers" and thus they should be the only ones involved in decision.  The impact to software authors and hardware owners is far greater than the impact to "digital publishers" - and in all cases the impact is negative (Beneficiary is hardware vendors).
  • Statutory monopoly laws are a massive government intervention in the market, so the pseudo-libertarian folks can't have it both ways.  Other than those with an orthodox ideologically blinded view on statutory monopolies, most recognize a need to have anti-trust/competition and other laws balance the statutory monopolies granted by government in copyright, patent and related laws.
  • I have yet to see evidence that encrypted media (digital locks, access controls applied to multimedia files) protect rather than threaten artist's revenues.  Most analysis that claims benefit are based on incorrect understandings of how the technologies actually work, and thus lead to incorrect conclusions about the impact.

The Bill C-11 FAQ contains quite a bit of information on digital locks and the real-world issues around them (Rather than the Harry Potter fictional understanding most non-technical people have of digital locks).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why I don't consider what most call "strategic voting" to be strategic

When most people talk about voting strategically they mean voting for someone who they don't consider to be the most qualified candidate in order to keep someone they dislike the most out of power.

Being strategic to me would be to make voting decisions today that have a longer term goal in mind.  What most call "strategic voting" may superficially may feel like a consideration of the future, but I consider it to be short-term thinking.  Even if you only take the specific vote in front of you, you are voting for someone you consider to be a lesser candidate which means that the best case scenario for your strategy is a bad outcome.

Lets look at what we have seen in recent decades to see what some of the failures caused by some of these strategies.

After the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to two seats in the 1993 general elections, those who consider themselves to be conservative in some aspect of their political beliefs tried to regroup.  In the 1997 election the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties both ran, but of course under the antiquated First Past the Post electoral system they split votes from voters who might have more in common with either of those parties candidates than the candidate who won in their riding.  As is also typical of this disruptive electoral system, the PC party had nearly as many votes as the Reform party, but only ended up with 1/3 of the seats.

Rather than working with people across parties and non-partisans who wanted to modernize the electoral system, some conservatives decided to create a "united alternative" movement to create an alternative to the Liberal party who has predominantly been the beneficiary of this disruptive electoral system.  In the 2000 election the Reform party and some converts ran under the new name of the "Canadian Alliance", and they then progressed to what many consider to be a hostile takeover and eventual annexation of the federal Progressive Conservative party.  By the 2004 election the PC party was gone, with only the renamed "Canadian Alliance" now using the title "Conservative Party of Canada" remaining.

You might ask: who cares?  A party with "conservative" in the name, the Liberals and the NDP all existed prior to the 1993 election and do today.  The problem is that much was lost within the conservative movement when the new coalition party was created. There are noises about creating yet another "united alternative" with the only difference being it is from those who consider themselves to be from the left.  If we continue down this path, we will end up with Canada having a system as dysfunctional as that in the USA where fringe elements of society effectively define the two potential governing political parties where the vast majority of reasonable thinking moderates are ignored.

I consider the possibility of subjecting Canada to another "united alternative" movement to be worse than any electoral outcome.  One has been bad enough for Canada, and we should be looking for ways to gain sanity in our politics -- not make an already bad situation worse.

I personally felt the loss within the restructuring of conservatism in Canada.  I was not involved in politics until the 1990's while I at university.  Friends had introduced me to the NDP and Liberals, but I didn't see anything of myself in those parties.  I was introduced to the Green party by someone who articulated the vision of the German Green party, but in the Green Party I kept bumping up against what I felt were disenfranchised NDP supporters.

I became quite excited by the PC leadership race of David Orchard, and joined the PC party in 1998. Mr Orchard lost to Joe Clark who considered Mr Orchard and his supporters to be "tourists" in the party.  I didn't support Mr. Clark, didn't feel welcome in the PC party, and put my political support back behind the Green Party.  When I compared the 2000 platforms of the PC party under Clark and the Green Party there were enough similarities that I could easily have stayed with the PC party, an possibly even helped get a candidate elected in my riding.

What I saw in Clark's PC party, I see nearly the opposite in Harpers's "Conservative" party.

While there are many types of conservatism, and not all people who consider themselves conservative agree with each other, there are some core values that unite us.  One is a belief that the government should not intrude on the private lives of its citizens. On those rare occasions when some intrusion is necessary to protect life and property that this be done with full independent court oversight to monitor the government (often in the form of the police) to keep those intrusions to the minimum that is absolutely necessary.

You can see the feelings about this type of policy with the multi-election campaign about the "wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry". The Harper government eventually ended the campaign (err... registry) and included requirements that the police destroy all records from the registry.   This was one of those issues that could unite all types of conservatives, including those in urban settings who saw it as a "motherhood and apple pie" type issue that might not affect them, but just felt right.  It was treating private information from law abiding citizens in a way that it felt accusatory of those citizens.

Unfortunately what the Harper government did from a policy point of view was a dishonest slight of hand. While the data from the long-gun registry was kept in Canada and only available to law enforcement agencies, we have the Harper government ramming through Bill C-51 which shares a much broader amount of citizen's private information across many more government departments and "law" enforcement agencies. Coupled with Harper's massive push to cave in on the Trans-pacific partnership  (TPP), this boondoggle database about law abiding citizens can't even be guaranteed to be restricted to access regulated by Canadian law.  Add in Harper's disastrous economic policies based on gut feelings rather than evidence stifling Canada's high-tech sector, and we can pretty much guarantee even our health information will be stored only in foreign databases.

While Harpercrits (Harper devotees) claim the TPP is a "trade" agreement, trying to argue that past benefits from free trade will apply, it is really a reckless untested policy harmonization treaty that was authored at the request of a very few special interests at the expensive of the economy and the interests of citizens as a whole.

I will not be the only conservative minded person who feels this way about Steven Harpers failed and in most respects anti-conservative policies.   The problem is: under our current antiquated voting system, and with these big-tent parties ignoring the views of moderates, who are people to vote for?  Harpercrits can still drum up fear of the Liberals to effectively get votes from people who strongly disagree with them, thus freeing Harper to do anything he want no matter how opposed it is to core conservative values.

While I held my nose and voted for David McGuinty in my current riding of Ottawa South, their vote on Bill C-51 reminded me of all the things that I've always hated about the Liberals.  While Harper's big government manipulation of markets and intrusion in the private lives of law abiding citizens is out of place with a party calling themselves "Conservative", it is very consistent with the long-standing policies of the Liberal party. Bill C-51 is effectively the same intrusive thinking that went into the long-gun registry, only on massive amounts of steroids -- exponentially increased by the job, privacy and economy destroying TPP.

I still don't feel comfortable with the NDP on many levels (don't get me started about unions...), but under Tom Mulcair the party has shifted to the right a bit (some say they are to the right of the Liberals under Justin Trudeau).  They have also come out more strongly in favour of modernizing our electoral system, repealing Bill C-51, and rejecting the TPP : three core policies for me that I consider to have far more longer term implications than any single election.

So, what does strategic look like to me?   If the NDP were even on the map in Ottawa South, I  -- a past member of the Progressive Conservative party -- would have voted NDP.  Given this particular riding will be decided between the Liberals and the Harpercrits, I voted Green as there is no long-term strategically minded alternative to vote for.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Harper locking Canada into failed Clinton-era policy at root of software-based corruption

Most people have heard about the emissions scandal where Volkswagen was caught hiding the fact that they were deliberately breaking the law.  This specific issue is minor when compared to the inevitable fatalities which will result from vehicles that allow remote control, or medical devices where the person whose life is being maintained by the technology aren't allowed to independently audit what and whose instructions it is obeying.

Harper amended the rules for a caretaker government this election so that his minister can continue pushing forward controversial policy which would lock Canadian law to disallow the required transparency and accountability of the very rules which govern everything from transportation and communications to medical devices and in some cases elections.

While the "copyright" aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are being covered elsewhere, there are non-copyright aspects embedded in the leaked Intellectual Property Rights Chapter that regulate the general transparency and accountability of software.

Unlike the 1996 WIPO treaties which tie what are now called "use controls" to copyright infringing activities, article QQ.G.10: {Technological Protection Measures} of the TPP mandates legal protection of access controls.  The TPP is based on the USA's DMCA which is based on the failed Lehman report from 1995 during the Clinton administration. While Bill C-11 also protects access controls, this is a critical mistake by the Harper government that a future government will need to fix.  Harper is aggressively pushing Canada into the TPP which will require that a future government get permission from TPP "partners" to finally fix these problems.

Access controls are controversial for a number of important reasons:

  • Access controls and other non-owner locks on software and hardware reduces the transparency and accountability of the rules that govern these devices.  Technology owners are disallowed from making their own independent software choices, as well as doing their own or having trusted third parties do software audits.
  • Access controls applied to multimedia content (more commonly known as "encrypted media" outside of policy circles) are used to tie access to culture to specific brands of access technology, pretty much always technology where the hardware and software has non-owner locks to disable auditability.  This type of tied selling is known to be harmful to the economy (is included in most anti-trust or competition policy), but also impacts cultural rights embedded in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • These policies allegedly relating to "copyright" are being applied to technology which intermediates most aspects of our modern lives.  While there have been expensive court cases to create narrow exceptions for uses of devices unrelated to copyright, most businesses (and even fewer individuals) don't have the financial resources to fight court battles to protect basic property and other rights.  The harmful impacts to the economy go well beyond copyright related industries, and the harmful impacts extend to issues surrounding health and safety, privacy, and national security.
  • There has been no credible evidence to the claim that these controls reduce copyright infringement, and considerable evidence to suggest they induce infringement
  • Creators of cultural works are as dependent as audience are (if not more) on having control of their own technology, and thus these non-owner locks on technology harm creators' rights

The cost to taxpayors alone of Harper doubling-down on this failed policy cannot be understated.  As one small example, the Canadian Forces are hiring people to hack into vechicle control systems (See: Cyber Security of Automotive Systems (W7701-166085/A)) to do basic auditing, but given the illegitimate claims of exclusive rights this taxpayer funded audit will not likely be widely published. The only reason why taxpayers have to foot this bill, rather than the costs being distributed across other interested and skilled device owners is because of this Harper policy.

It is sad that Harper even promotes his reckless behavior during the election, trying to pull the wool over voters eyes by claiming the TPP is "trade" policy rather than the harmonization of non-trade related policies --- often untested policies, or where the policies were proven failures in countries where they were tested.

Harper suggests people should vote for him and his nominated candidates because of their record on the economy and on security. This policy is one example among many where Harpers record indicates failure.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The federal election, partisanship, and copyright.

Advance polls are open for Canada's 42'nd general election.  Having been actively involved in previous elections I have been asked for my opinion about who they should vote for for those of us who consider authors' rights important.  I have spent a large portion of my life dedicated to this area of policy, especially between 2001 and 2012, meeting with sitting members of federal parliament, other politicians and other policy makers.

One thing I have observed is that while there is partisanship, it does not follow along political party lines.  It isn't possible for me to recommend any specific candidate based on their political party or the platform of a party, and you need to talk to the candidates to determine their partisanship.

As a creators' rights activist I don't concern myself with those few I have met over the years who oppose copyright.   The most important ideological separation is within those who strongly believe that creators have a right to moral and material rewards from their creativity, but that strongly disagree with each other in how to achieve that goal.

The simplest way to explain the difference is to call is orthodox vs evidence based policy making.

Orthodox Copyright

People who adhere to this belief system will agree with statements like, "if some copyright is good, more must be better".   They believe that increasing the breadth, strength and length of copyright will automatically increase the material and moral rewards to creators.

Superficially this is a very easy sell, and lends itself to easy soundbites and trivial analysis: No matter what the policy change is they can simply see if "copyright" is increasing and they can automatically come out in favor of it.   Even if something unrelated to copyright is called "copyright" they will also automatically come out in favor of it, regardless of any impact to creators.

Evidence-based Copyright

People who adhere to this belief system will agree with statements like,"Copyright is to creativity like water is to humans: too little and you dehydrate and die, too much and you drown and die".  They require economic and other analysis to determine the impact on creators of specific policy changes. They will recognize that one copyright holders interests are often in conflict with the rights of authors, and recognize that some policy changes can even be a transfer of rights from one copyright holding group to another.  They consider the idea that "more is better" to be naive at best, given specific policy changes which increase the breadth, strength and length of copyright have been well proven to decrease the material and moral rewards to authors.

This group has a much harder sell as it requires economic study and understanding of business, economics, and other disciplines which authors tend to want to let someone else worry about. Soundbites are rare, and even the simplest of policy changes require considerable understanding of market trends to understand the impact to authors.

Examples of copyright partisanship in federal political parties

The NDP offer the best example of how important the individual members of parliament are, more than what their party affiliation is.

From 2001 to 2004 the NDP Heritage Critic, and he person most involved in Copyright policy, was Wendy Lil.  She was a journalist, playwright, and writer who was extremely orthodox in her copyright views.  She showed no interest in discussing the economic and other analysis of policy proposals brought to her by fellow creators, but instead promoted policies which would have "grown" copyright in ways that would hurt most creators.

Ms. Lill retired and did not run in the 2004 election. Newly elected independent writer, broadcaster and musician Charlie Angus became the critic for copyright. He sat on the Heritage, C-32 and later C-11 committees.  Mr. Angus is an evidence-based copyright activist who closely listened to those of us who wanted to talk about economic analysis to benefit creators rather than only listening to or slinging harmful slogans.

As the NDP caucus grew after the last election the diversity grew.  There is a mixture of orthodox and evidence-based members, and I suspect there are some pretty interesting behind-the-scenes debates when policies impacting creators come up.

There is one external dynamic which impacts the NDP more than the other parties, and that is problems within many of the unions which allege to work in the interests of authors.  The executives of these unions have predominantly been made up of some of the more aggressive slogan-slinging orthodox adherents. While their easy sound bites make running for elections within the unions easier as they don't need to explain their positions, it has meant that most of these associations have been publicly advocating for policies which the evidence-based creators' rights activists believe are harmful.

The NDP as a party has long-standing ties with the labour movement, so when someone claiming to represent the interests of professional writers or from an authors union offers their partisan views they may blindly trust those views if they weren't already aware of the wider set of views in the creators' rights movement.

While the NDP is the best example given the complete flip that happened after the 2004 election, the same dynamic exists in the other parties.  I met with MPs from the other federal parties who were looking for economic analysis of policy proposals, and those who blindly trusted the slogans.

About the only party I had only a negative experience with was the Bloc who never showed interest in meeting with anyone living outside of Quebec.  The only MP from the Bloc I interacted much with was naive orthodox Carole LavallĂ©e who treated me as a hostile witness in the C-32 legislative committee.  I was trying to understand her "when have you stopped beating your wife" style of questioning through the simultaneous translator, but it was obvious that she has no interest in the evidence that various creators' rights advocates were bringing.  Fortunately the influence of the Bloc is dwindling, and it is even possible (crossing fingers) that this election may see them fade away entirely.

Exception to the general rule: Harper

Even if you find a great evidence-based policy person running for the "Conservative" party in your riding it won't likely matter.   Harper, not being a traditional conservative at all, likes to abuse the big hand of government to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.   While the copyright part of Bill C-11 was fairly balanced (the non-copyright part weren't), that balance has effectively been removed by Harper later.   He reduced the revenue of music composers by increasing the term of copyright for record labels as part of an omnibus budget, and he deputized Ed Fast to play Fast-and-loose with Canadian law and our economy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in ways that will greatly harm authors (as well as most other Canadians in an agreement that will only increase Canada's trade/fiscal deficits and kill jobs).

As long as Harper retains tight control over the "united alternative" they remain a caucus of people whose leadership is not only uninterested but actively hostile towards evidence required to make good policy decisions.


See also: What will the future hold? Post your thoughts on the election!, written in 2006 during the 39th general election.

Friday, October 2, 2015

More trivially obvious ways to reduce copyright infringement

Contrast the following DVD pre-releases:

Doctor Who: Series 9 Part 1
This title will be released on November 3, 2015.

Doctor Who is currently airing on Space television (Currently owned by Bell Media) on Saturdays, with the rest of the first half airing later this October - with the DVD of those episodes being made available the week after.  As someone who doesn't have cable and isn't a customer of a BDU for Internet, I can also watch the episodes the day after they air on cable streamed from the space.ca website.  Past seasons starting from 2005 through to last years's Christmas special are all available on Netflix.

Personal: I'm watching via the website each week, and will be purchasing the full season DVD when it is released.  If last year is any indication, it will be available in December prior to the airing of the Christmas special (which will be available early in the new year).

Game of Thrones: Season 5
This title will be released on March 15, 2016

Game of Thrones season 5 aired from April 12 to June 14, 2015. It is only available directly via HBO, in Canada exclusively licensed to HBO Canada, which is also owned by Bell Media.  It is not available unbundled from Cable or Satellite as a streaming service.

While I would have no idea why anyone would want to infringe copyright on modern Doctor Who given how readily available it is in a wide variety of legitimate formats, I fully understand why people would infringe the copyright of Game of Thrones.  In the case of Game of Thrones  you are forced to choose between 3 inappropriate options:

  • Watch on Cable/Satellite : The tied selling of the Game of Thrones to an unrelated and unnecessary separate service (Cable or Satellite TV) is something that should be declared illegal under Canada's Competition Act.  If not, then it should be considered fair dealings under Copyright Law given under "effect of the market" fans aren't provided a legitimate market.
  • Infringe copyright
  • Wait nearly a full year after release, an illogical delay that can only be explained by HBO trying to drive people to the other two options. They may want to immorally force people to the tied selling, but just as legitimately are forcing people to copyright infringement.

Personal: I'm waiting for the DVD release, but will watch with someone else if they have acquired it via some other means.  I may not be willing to choose either of the first two options myself, but am willing to watch the show with someone else who has.

I know that orthodox copyright lobbiests try to paint a picture where innocent copyright holders are being attacked from all sides by the evil world, but reality is quite different.  The easiest way for copyright holders to reduce the vast majority of non-commercial copyright infringement is to stop the self-inflicted pain: business practises which induce fans of their works to infringe as legitimate methods to pay are not offered.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Learn something new every day: Ordering drinks in Budapest

Yesterday and today we went out for lunch at a local restaurant in the Pest part of Budapest, Hungary.  On the menu it would give non-alcoholic drink prices for .1L, but the actual drinks served are larger than that. You need to be specific about the size of drink you expect, otherwise you will end up with a larger drink and potentially a surprise when you receive the bill.

Yesterday we had goulash at Cyrano. This afternoon we visited the Borkakas Bistro where we finally asked for an explanation of the inconsistency. They not only gave us an explanation so we could finally understand what was happening, but they offered to reduce the bill to the price of the .1L drink.  I felt embarrassed to be asking so many questions about what is a fairly small amount of money (even if the Canadian dollar is down these days), but it was a curiosity what was causing us to wonder if prices were being inflated for us confused tourists  Nop -- just confused tourists.

We were walking around quite a bit and already feeling overly hot and a bit dehydrated, otherwise I would have been ordering beer where the price is far more clear (priced per regular mug and large mug) and cheaper than the same volume of non-alcoholic drink.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Inevitable fatalities when owners don't (and increasingly not legally allowed to) control digital technology.

I've been writing about technology property rights for years, and how it must be the owner who controls digital technology and not any third party.  I've given examples of unaccountable ballot-less voting technology, and medical technologies, and driver-less vehicles. It seems I should not have been limiting the warning to driver-less vehicles.  Negligent automobile manufacturers have tied entertainment computers (which includes wireless hotspots/etc) to on-board computers that control critical functions of the vehicle, something I believe they should be held fully liable for.

An article in wired magazine Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me in It discusses a negligently designed Jeep Cherokee which enabled remote access to air conditioning, radio stations, wind-shield wipers (blurring vision of road), and even the transmission.  While these are dangerous enough, this was only the access that was demonstrated to the reporter -- the full scale of the negligence of Jeep may be much worse.

This type of remote control is the type of thing which politicians are asking for all the time, under the pretext of "lawful" remote control which is just as counter-productive to reducing crime as inadequately monitored "lawful access".  The reality is that if a government authorized "intruder" is allowed third party access and control to technology, this same back-door (or in some cases front-door access) will always be able to be abused by non-government authorized "intruders".  Once you allow access that isn't authorized by the owner, then you have given up any ability to control the device from any non-owner authorized intruder.

This is also a good time to remind people that the problem is not the "unauthorized" third party attackers, so blame should never be put on the people who exploit the negligence of manufacturers or politicians.  The blame must always be put on the manufacturers and politicians who are deliberately making the world less safe, and with continuous warning from technologically literate citizens and witnesses at committees they can't claim they didn't know.  What they don't know is what they have deliberately refused to understand, or where they have trusted technologically illiterate lobbyists and lawyers who are simply not qualified to have been witnesses in the first place.

It is frustrating to watch, and fatalities from the decisions these politicians are making are inevitable.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


I just watched Ascension on Netflix.

Spoilers, Sweety..   It is really hard to discuss this show without giving something away.  Please consider watching the miniseries before reading, and come back..   It's only 6 episodes long...

The show reminded me of many Joss Whedon series like Firefly and Dollhouse which really aren't made for broadcast television.  They are smart, and have longer stories that evolve where you really don't have a clue what the show is about until many episodes in.   And like those shows, there is a superheroine that really surprises the audience.

The 6 episodes are in 3 2-part chapter pairs, with some pretty amazing reveals at the end of each chapter.

Chapter 1 ends with the revelation that the ship never took off, and that this is an experiment being held on earth.  What is the experiment?  Is it really about learning about the human impact of multi-generational space flight?

Chapter 2 ends with the X-men style superheroine girl reading someone's mind, after clearly exhibiting many other traits that suggest that she has evolved well beyond what we are currently aware of.

Chapter 3 ends with someone having really "gone into space" -- but not through a spaceship, but possibly by teleportation initiated by accident by the superheroine.  And it seems the man who's father was behind this multi-generational project predicted that this power could evolve.

Chapter 4?  Will we ever see one?  There are some very interesting possibilities of where they could take this type of story.  More government conspiracy type stuff that this was really about evolving a biological weapon?  Or a more positive spin of a new era of human space exploration without the environmental impact?  Or maybe for once an X-men style evolution of humanity where the normals encourage rather than hunt down the genetically advanced -- with the results of the experiment used to further enhance all of humanity (ya, I know -- highly unlikely storyline).

And who was that honey-pot agent really working for who said the child must be born?  That didn't seem like a throw-away line, but the beginning of a new thread in the story.  We are supposed to believe she works for the same agencies, but I'm not sure.

I suspect there will be others like me that really loved the show, but that it won't have "mainstream" appeal. This is where more niche programming can come in, and where broadcast alternatives like Netflix really shine.

Oh, and this is Canadian -- produced in Montreal -- did I forget to mention that?  Yes, Canada comes out with some pretty great programming, but only a few survive.  Out of Vancouver in the SF category we saw great things from BSG, the whole Stargate franchise, and Sanctuary.  We have a crew in hibernation with Stargate Universe that could be woken up, and Sanctuary could be resumed at any time -- two shows I would love to see new episodes from.

Unfortunately I suspect Ascension will be left like Defying Gravity (Vancouver) -- great potential that never makes it past first season.  On the chopping block when it really started to get you hooked....

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Works of cultural industry are nothing like "Happy Meal" toys.

When discussing cultural policy you will sometimes bump into individuals who seek to diminish the value of culture by comparing it to consumer products.  To them, one creative work is no different than another.  To quote Mark H. Goldberg who consults to the telecommunications industry (including "regulatory and government relations") and organizes the Canadian Telecom Summit:
As an author (mostly of software) who recognizes the value of the creative works of others, and as an audience and sometimes major fan of creative works, it is an understatement to say I disagree with that attitude.

Creative works obviously have economic value, and we creators deserve to be materially rewarded for our contributions, but creative works have value far beyond economics.  Whether you are the author or a fan, these works are part of who you are -- part of your identity, personality, and how you see yourself in the world.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Doctor Who, and that I quote from Monty Python skits or Rush lyrics to express ideas.   I am obviously not unique in this, and culture should always be recognized as having value within society far beyond economics, and that these works permeate and are part of authors and audiences.

I could go on, but I suspect my point is clear: The idea of comparing cultural works, such as video content, to a "Happy Meal toy" is offensive.

There is a practical reason why many people who represent the interests of intermediaries express this view.   If creative works remained a conversation between creators and their fans, then the control (and thus the bulk of the economic value) would stay within that conversation.  Contrary to the rhetoric you will hear from these intermediary representatives, fans want creators to get paid as they want those creators to have the ability to create more.   In my experience it is far more likely some artificial barrier created by an intermediary is in the way of that payment, rather than some desire for audiences to access without compensating creators.  I'm not saying that people not paying never happens, but that this is by far not the greatest barrier to authors receiving the material rewards they deserve.

What these intermediaries are doing is abusing the intimate relationship between creators and audiences for the private economic gain of that intermediary.  They exploit the ways in which cultural works are not like consumer products to the detriment of both creators and their audiences.  In my view some of these business practices go as far as interfering with both parts of Article 27 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 27.
  • (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
This is the article that justifies copyright and patent law, and why there is a UN specialized agency currently called WIPO. While I believe this agency required major reform to respect and protect the entire article (and not primarily the economic interests of intermediaries), I strongly agree with this article and the need for national and international laws and agencies to protect it.

Mr. Goldberg was trying to justify on twitter one of these artificial barriers that reduces the ability of audiences to access creative works.  Specific companies within the broadcast, telecommunications, or consumer electronics industries want exclusive deals with content producers to tie the ability to legally access cultural works to the purchase of their products or services.  It is obvious why this scheme might be good for these intermediaries, but it should be equally obvious why it is bad for everyone else.

In this specific thread it was the inability of Canadians to legally access HBO video content near the time it is broadcast without paying for the services of a few select companies (Broadcast Distribution Undertakings - BDU's like Bell, Rogers, etc) who force bundles of expensive unrelated services (Cable/etc) that people otherwise don't want.   We are told we either have to financially support business practices we find offensive, not access the works, or be driven to infringing sources.  I believe these business practices induce copyright infringement as much if not more than services like ISOHunt or Pirate Bay, and as an author I consider it the responsibility of the government to step in and deal with this contributory infringement.

For the HBO shows I follow I wait months or years later until I'm finally allowed to buy the DVD. I would be happy to pay a $10/month monthly fee similar to what I pay for the much larger Netflix catalog to watch HBO shows in a more timely manner. I would still be buying most of the same DVDs as I enjoy having that catalog in my home. What we want is a Netflix-like service which is not tied to a specific Internet provider, brand of consumer electronics, or unrelated broadcast related service. While HBO is experimenting with this in the USA, exclusive deals with BDUs make it unlikely to happen any time soon in Canada without government intervention.

My strong desire to pay isn't the issue, and it is barriers created by intermediaries blocking my ability to pay.

Far from being a legitimate business practice, these exclusive deals are something that the CRTC, Competition Bureau, and Parliament should clarify as illegal.  Section 77 of Canada's Competition Act prohibits this style of activity, but unfortunately the bureau has largely left manipulating markets for creative works inadequately regulated.  While creative works are more deserving of protection than traditional products or services due to their additional importance to the cultural lives of Canadians, current interpretations of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Guidelines (IPEG - See my submission to the bureau) appear to discourage the bureau from adequately intervening.

At this time of rapid technological change, regulation against this tied selling is the most critical form of protection that the cultural sector requires.  Regulators need to get past thinking that CANCON style rules that only applied to broadcasting will be of any help (more likely a hindrance) as multimedia creators and audiences move past broadcasting as a primary distribution method.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why my strong reaction against the Liberals for voting for bill C-51?

I've had people comment on my strong views against the Liberals for voting for Bill C-51.

It was not a surprise that the Liberals supported Harper's alleged "Anti-terrorism" bill, given the Liberals had multiple times in the past proposed similarly flawed Lawful Access legislation.  The agencies that have been granted additional powers by C-51 are not new, and this only represents an update from what I consider to be mistakes of the past.

The Liberal response to Bill C-51 only served as a reminder of things I have not liked about the Liberal party for a long time. 
  • They fall prey to the "something must be done, this is something, so it must be done" type of politics. They don't want to be seen as soft on [bad behavior flavor of the month], so push forward policies such as lopsided "lawful access" where citizens outside of agencies get additional scrutiny, but not citizens within government agencies.
  • They get caught by the "you are either with us, or with the [bad behavior]ists" rhetoric, whether in government or opposition, which feeds into the "this is something" problem.  They don't come out with what I consider to be reasoned policies, just policies which appear at first glance to be tough on [bad behavior].
  • Since I became politically involved in the 1990's, Liberal election campaigns have been based on fear: vote Liberal or [some "scary" opponent] might win (under "first past the post" generated vote-splitting of course). This federal election the "scary" opponent will be Harper, but in BC it is the NDP (The BC Liberals are a coalition of what other Canadians might call Liberals and Progressive Conservatives), in Quebec it is the "separatists", and so-on.  This frees up the Liberals to not have rational policies, as long as their policies appear slightly different than the "scary" opponent.    While the Liberals will claim yet again this federal election that it is the Harper Conservatives that are the party of fear, it has been the Liberals that have been the party of fear since long before the Reform/Alliance/Harper party even existed. It is time Canadians voted for something, not against something -- the status-quo means we never get good government, just theoretically (with little evidence) less bad government.

I mistakenly held my nose and voted for the Liberal nominated candidate in my riding in some recent elections, and the C-51 vote reminded me why I should not do that as it only weakens what I believe it is to be Canadian.

I'm not suggesting I believe the NDP is a great party, or that I am certain they would make a good federal Government.  I never even considered voting for them before this election. What I am saying is that voting Liberal yet again because you did in the past isn't going to get you something different. The federal Liberal party has been in decline in recent decades, and it is false to suggest that its new post-election caucus or leader would be "more tested" than an NDP post-election caucus and leader.   It is people who make up political parties, not theoretical place holders. The exact membership of the caucus is what matters, not some distant memory of a previous caucus that doesn't apply to the current situation.

I'm also not suggesting people vote for Harper's party.  If C-51 wasn't a deal breaker for you and your choice is between the Conservatives and the Liberals (as it has traditionally been for many Canadians), I would suggest you take a close look at your Conservative candidate.  The conservative movement in Canada has gone through some radical changes in recent decades.  While I believe the Harper conservatives have major flaws that make them not worthy of the conservative name, change is obviously possible as it has already happened. Take a close look at your local candidate and see if they are someone who would be better described as a Progressive Conservative than a Harper conservative. That person as an MP might become part of the group that will fix the Conservative party from within. There is a growing list of cabinet ministers that won't be running in this election, and this may allow for positive change -- more change than having a Liberal keeping a House of Commons seat warm could.

If the Conservative party moved closer to the center from the right, coupled with the federal NDP already moving so close to the center from the left, it really leaves no room for the Liberals under those traditional left-right policy lines.  The Greens still offer something different that doesn't always fit on that spectrum, but the Liberals don't offer anything unique or interesting.

Liberals do continue to offer fear and vote splitting....

Please also read:

Justification and criticism for lawful access legislation like #BillC51 two sides of same coin.

The justification for Lawful Access sounds like:

  • There is some small percentage of people within Canada who might commit [bad behavior], so we must more closely monitor Canadians to find those outliers and stop [bad behavior].
The critique many of us have against most Lawful Access implementations sounds like:
  • There is some small percentage of people within government agencies who might commit [bad behavior] with the help of additional powers granted to those agencies, so we must more closely monitor government agencies to find those outliers and stop [bad behavior].
The specific [bad behavior] doesn't really matter, and has changed over the years as the politics of the day changes. Some years it is generically "crime", sometimes "child pornography", sometimes "hate crimes", and these days the most widely abused is "terrorism".

Fundamentally, I believe legislation that add more power for government agencies to monitor citizens that doesn't come with additional monitoring of those government agencies can never be claimed to be anti-[bad behavior].  Granting the regular human beings who work for these government agencies more inadequately monitored powers makes it more likely that [bad behavior] will occur, just this behavior will be within rather than outside government agencies.

I am not suggesting people who work for the government are bad people, only that they are real-life people and not academic theories.  People don't become some sort of different species simply because they train for and are accepted into a specific profession.  It might be easy for some eggheads to speak of theoretical government, law enforcement and intelligence workers, but some of us live in the real world.  As only a few examples I have a cousin married to an police sergeant, the uncle of my god-children is in the RCMP protecting the Prime Minister, and this month I went to a cottage with the family where the husband works at the "spy palace" here in Ottawa.  These are great folks, great parents where I have watched their children grow up, but they are clearly not some different species from other Canadians.

I have many friends who believe that agency workers will be targeted by those who want to corrupt them to access the additional powers they have at their disposal.  After all, these are regular human beings who can be tempted by money or swayed by threats against their family and friends.  I don't believe we need to take this reality into consideration to recognize the flaws of legislation like Bill C-51, although it would be appropriate to consider when eventually drafting laws to protect Canadians. Having inadequate scrutiny of agency workers puts their and their families lives at risk, while if anyone who might otherwise want to corrupt these workers knew the power couldn't be abused they wouldn't have any reason to threaten these people.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Harper promoting Liberal Brand as: A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Harper

The most important aspect of this years Canadian Federal Election campaign is the fact that Canada is still using an antiquated horse-and-buggy electoral system known as First Past the Post.  Under this unfair and divisive system a politician does not need to have the support of a majority of constituents, they only need to divide and conquer the opposition.

Harper's election campaign has been clear from the start: promote the Liberal brand and Justin Trudeau as if it were the "opposite" of the Harper brand.  This way voters who agree with Harper will stick with Harper, but those who oppose will go to the Liberals which is Harper's second choice.

Harper will promote the Liberals for a number of strategic reasons:
  • The Bill C-51 vote demonstrates that the Liberals are weak in opposition, and they can be trivially frightened by "you are with us, or with the terrorists" style rhetoric.  Harper knows that both Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May are adult and more seasoned politicians who aren't going to be so trivially manipulated.
  • Under the current voting system the Liberals split the opposition vote, which is the most effective way for a Conservative party member to win.  Harper realizes that there are only a few ridings where the Conservatives have the support of a majority, and he must prop up the Liberals in order for the Conservatives to win over the NDP or Greens in most ridings.
  • Without Harper's active promotion of the Liberal brand, more Canadians might notice the polls of other Canadians and realize that it is the NDP that are more likely to win against Harper. In Alberta it was the NDP that dethroned the Progressive Conservative party, with the Liberals nowhere to be found.
  • Harper wants less engaged voters to believe nothing has changed in recent decades. He wants people to either vote Liberal or (no longer Progressive) Conservative, as had been the case for decades. This distracts people not only about the changes in other parties federally (Growth of center-left NDP, and center-right Green), but the radical differences between the Progressive Conservative party and the Harper Conservative party.

I can only prey that Canadians become engaged in this election, and not fall for Harper's trap.

  • If you don't like Harper's policies, then stay away from Justin Trudeau and the Liberals as they would make a very weak official opposition or government.
  • Don't trust the Liberals who claim that you need to vote for them to avoid splitting the vote and allow someone else in.  It is the Liberal candidates that split the vote, and who if they were really concerned would be saying something very different (Lets start with not sabotaging attempts in Ontario and BC to modernize away from the antiquated system which creates the "vote splitting" problem)
  • Please pay attention, and realize that between the Liberals and the NDP it is the NDP in the lead.  If your choice is between candidates from those parties, then don't split the vote by voting Liberal.
  • If you were a supporter of the Progressive Conservative party, please recognize that the Harper Conservatives are a very different brand.  As a past member of the federal PC party, and as someone who voted in federal PC leadership races, I do not recognize myself in the Harper Conservative brand.  No self-respecting conservative Canadian should support Harper's intrusive big-government policies such as we see with C-51 : who needs a long-gun registry when far more information about all of us will be freely shared between government departments for purposes we all know will have nothing to do with "terrorism".  Harper has duped you if you believed the rhetoric he abused in debates around the long-gun registry or the long-form census.

Ontario Municipal Elections Act Review - Ranked Ballots!

The following is a cut-and-paste of my comments on the Ranked Ballots part of the Ontario municipal elections act review.
As you can tell, I am excited by the possibility as I believe ranked ballots for either single or multi member districts is the best option for municipalities.  This is a system that fixes the flaws in the antiquated first-past-the-post system which creates the concept of "vote splitting" and encourages negative campaigning (and thus more negative and less effective government).
It also doesn't encourage political parties to form at the municipal level, a flaw that some of the so-called "proportional" systems would encourage. Whenever we hear the word "proportional" we need to ask "proportional to what".  If it is proportional to the support a voter has for a political party, this grants more power to political parties in the system. Additional power to political parties has its own harmful effects which we also need to be minimizing.
I have an additional concern, which is that we need to avoid allowing incumbent politicians having undue influence on whether a municipality modernizes to a ranked ballot.  We already saw incumbent politicians sabotaging referendum in Ontario and BC.  Incumbent politicians who were dependent on flaws in the current system to win will oppose (publicly, or subversively) modernization that would close that loophole.

What are your thoughts on using ranked ballots for Ontario municipal elections?I am excited. It is something I have been dreaming of since I first became aware of the fact that Canada was so far behind the rest of the world, and that it was our antiquated voting system that caused "vote splitting" and the negative campaigning.
Should municipalities be able to use ranked ballots for certain offices and not others? For example, only for mayor?No. It should be usable for any single or multi-member position.
Should public consultation by a municipality be required before implementing ranked ballots or before changing from ranked ballots back to the current system?No. This would allow the incumbents of that municipality who might be dependent on the legacy system to sabotage the consultation.
What form should that consultation take?If there must be a consultation or referendum, then the incumbent politicians should have little or no say in the process. Education around the system needs to be independently funded, so that incumbents cant sabotage the process through under-funding education.
Unlike the current system, ranked ballots can involve multiple rounds of counting before all the seats to be elected have been won.
How much information would you want about election results? For example, where there have been multiple rounds of counting would you want to see the results of each round of counting or just the final results?I would personally want access to full anonymised data. This isn't different than what I would want for the current system, but am unaware that level of data being released.
There are a number of other important decisions that the province will need to consider when determining how ranked ballots could work in Ontario. Throughout this review we will be consulting with Ontarians, municipalities and experts on ranked ballots to help us make these decisions.
Are there other ideas you wish to share on ranked ballots that you would like us to consider?Suggest to municipalities that implementation be gradual. For instance, move to a ranked ballot for existing positions first before moving towards creating multi-member positions which didn't already exist. Change is hard for people, and it would be unfortunate if a too large change caused people to want to go backward.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Federal Liberals have excluded themselves from consideration in future elections

Last evening I wrote the following to David McGuinty, my MP in Ottawa South.

I am disappointed at the decision you and other Liberals made on C-51.  While I have voted for you multiple times in the past, I am now put in a position of no longer being able to do so.
While the Harper Conservatives promote the idea that the next election will be between them and the Liberals, the Liberals stand too close on the most important issues for that to hold any truth.  
If we had electoral reform it wouldn't matter as much, but given we don't I will need to spend the next election campaigning to ensure those who don't want to split the vote must keep away from Liberals.
It won't be anything against you personally. The "lawful access" aspects of C-51 are so bad I simply can't vote for anyone who voted for it.

For anyone who does not know me, I should put this letter in context.  I am not a participant in armchair politics, where I sit there at home or with close friends complaining about the world. I get involved.   I first met with David McGuinty before was first elected to federal politics, have had several meetings (on Parliament Hill and in his constituency office), and have voted for him in several federal elections since.  I also met with Justin Trudeau before he became leader of the federal Liberals.

Federally I have been a member of, and voted in the leadership races for, the Progressive Conservative Party and the Green Party of Canada.   I have voted for David McGuinty of the Liberals a few times, and I have made financial contributions to the constituency offices of a few NDP MPs and candidates.  While I don't believe in so-called "strategic voting" to circumvent the failings of First Past the Post (I believe in electoral modernization), I do avoid blind partisanship and will be strategic in my support (or opposition) to candidates and parties for what I consider to be the greater long-term good.

While C-51 has many parts, the most controversial are the parts that should be lumped together with any other so-called "lawful access" proposal.  This is the irrational and emotionally driven policy that suggests the world is extremely scary, except for those few who choose to become part of police and intelligence forces which have none of the faults of the mortals in the rest of the scary world.  This leads to suggestions that the world, including the general population, should be monitored and scrutinized in great detail -- essentially a very Orwellian world where privacy and individuality can't exist.  This mass surveillance is carried out by police and intelligence agencies which, not being made up of humans, can be blindly trusted with these surveillance and database mining powers with minimal or no monitoring or scrutinizing.

While people can rant and rave until their faces turn red all they want about the need for such things to allegedly "protect" themselves from this scary world, that is all it is: emotionally driven ranting which doesn't pass the most basic scrutinizing by a calm rational person.  Many calm rational people have explained what is wrong with this policy and any proposals to implement it for many generations, so I don't need to repeat at this time my support of those rational thinkers.

While some political parties will try to distract us with campaign slogans and empty rhetoric, I believe the decisions around C-51 are at a defining level for what it means to be a Canadian, and should form the basis of our choices in the upcoming federal election.

The Harper Conservatives continuously promote the idea that the next election will be some sort of horse race between them and the Justin Liberals.  I believe this is self-serving nonsense on the part of Harper.  With C-51 the Liberal caucus stood so close to Harper that it was hard to differentiate them from any other powerless Harper Conservative back-bencher.  It is to the benefit of Harper if the official "opposition" agrees with them on the most substantial issues, and they can then carry out public theatre on the less important policies.  While Harper's first choice is obviously that people vote for his Conservative party, his second choice is that people vote for the Liberal party.

While there are obviously differences between these parties, those differences are not any greater than what existed between the Progressive Conservative and Reform party before they went through their multi-year dance towards merger (or annexation as those of us who supported the progressive arm of the Progressive Conservatives felt).  Maybe we can call this the multi-decade dance of the Canadian Reform Alliance Liberal Party (CRALP rather than CRAP?)

While 2000 was the last year the federal Progressive Conservative party ran candidates, 2015 might be the last year the federal Liberal party runs candidates.  If their 34 seats are reduced below the 12 seats for official party status, I hope the party will decide to let their candidates move to more appropriate parties and not stand in the way of a more honest choices in Canadian federal politics.  I can think of a few Liberal candidates that clearly belong in other parties, including moving to the Conservative, Green and NDP caucus (I don't think either the Bloc or Forces et DĂ©mocratie have much of a future, and are more like the Liberals and splintering off into oblivion).

With Alberta returning a Majority NDP government, we again have proof that change is possible in Canada.  If you are like I am that lives in one of those 34 ridings that returned a Liberal last election, and possibly for many decades before, it is time to recognize that it is time for a change and that the Liberal brand can't offer that change.   I'm not suggesting what alternative people vote for, including those who actually support the Harper Conservatives, but suggesting that the Liberals aren't a useful alternative.

I hope that this will end once and for all the "Anyone But ..." campaigns federally, or talk of electoral cooperation between other parties and the Liberals.  Voting Liberal can not be strategic for someone who actually believes "Anyone But Conservative".   I recognize this is not the case in provincial politics, given the "Anyone But NDP" in BC means voting for the "free enterprise coalition" between the Liberals and Conservatives (which confusingly uses the Liberal brand name, rather than Progressive Conservative or some other more clear branding).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Where does "Television" fit on the "Information Superhighway"?

Policy makers during much of the 1990's liked to use the phrase "Information Superhighway", trying to make an analogy between transportation technology and communications technology. With all the recent talk about the future of Canadian television, I started thinking about analogies between transportation and our video distribution systems.

Walking could be compared to over the air terrestrial transmission, which can't reach very far and can be thought of as the beginning of our transportation and video distribution journey.

Riding animals was our next step for transportation, which in my mind is analogous to the creation of Cable, Satellite, and related "Broadcast Distribution Undertakings" (BDU).  We had some choice over what animal to ride, and we could get a bit further, but we were still moving slowly.

Riding carts pulled by animals might be seen as the next step for transportation, analogous to BDUs going digital with BDU technology dependent set-top boxes.  We may not be sitting directly on the animal any more, which gives some advantages, but we were still powered by the animals and all the limitations and costs that came with them.

One of the many steps for transportation which shared roads was the electric car, which might be analogous to the legitimate over-the-top (OTT) video distribution systems like Netflix and YouTube (I wrote elsewhere in this blog why I don't consider Shomi, CraveTV or FibeTV to be legitimate). Like the 1890s where there was an attempt to ban electric cars because they scared the horses, there is an attempt by the BDUs, the companies they own, and their allies, to ban or regulate/tax out of existence the legitimate OTT services.

While there was a ban on electric cars, transportation technology still advanced to the present where we have automobiles, trucks, buses and a variety of other vehicles, powered by a variety of means, all using common road infrastructure.  While people still walk, and still ride horses, these are not considered viable options for longer distances except in very rare circumstances.

There are potentials with video distribution as well, with OTT technologies finally properly enabling the ability of neutral video distribution services to harness the much faster advancements in telecommunication technology. We can see a future where there is an open marketplace for creators and audiences to connect, if only we are all able to break free of all the arbitrary barriers put on these transactions by the legacy BDUs.

So - where do we go from here?  While some bemoan the lack of the flying cars that science fiction promised we would have by the early 2000's, I think we have legitimate reason to complain far more loudly at how far back we seem to be in video distribution technology.  Will we allow the modern day equivalents of horseshoe and whip makers, and others that feel tied to outmoded technologies, to delay the inevitable advancement in video distribution technology?

I hold it as a matter of pride that I am not a subscriber to a BDU, and that I am able to practice what I believe in this area of policy.  Government manipulations of the marketplace to protect outmoded companies from free market competition denies such choice in other areas.

Ontario Government intervention in Over the Top video policy discussions

I sent the following to my MP and Ontario MPP, after reading a few articles on Michael Geist's blog about Ontario’s Campaign for a Netflix Tax. For me this isn't about price, as I believe I get good value for money from Netflix and wouldn't mind paying more. For me this is a question of fairness, with the Ontario government having naive, counterproductive, and outrageously backwards ideas of what constitutes fairness in this area of policy.

I recommend other people in Ontario write to their MPPs and MPs on this issue.

To: John Fraser (MPP) and David McGuinty (MP),

I am a constituent of Ottawa South, sending this to both my MPP and my MP as this area of policy has considerable Federal-Provincial overlap.  Please forward to the relevant ministers and government departments as appropriate.  This should include the Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and his Deputy Minister.  The Deputy Minister has already made some of his views on this area of policy known.

The growth of modern communications technologies such as those using the Internet Protocol includes the growth of what is often called "Over The Top" (OTT) video services.  These are services which make use of existing telecommunications infrastructure and standards, and run "over the top" of them such that they finally become neutral to the underlying communications technology.  OTT services are able to be delivered to us wired and wirelessly, over copper and fiber, and will be neutral to any other telecommunications technology we will dream up in the future.

With this technological advancement comes appropriate calls for regulation of these services.  Unfortunately the contribution to this debate by the Ontario government has thus far been naive and counterproductive.

While there are a wide variety of  options in this marketplace, I tend to group them into two classes:  true OTT services which are neutral to both communications service provider and technology,, and services which tie the ability to purchase the OTT service to a specific brand or subsets of brands of communications services.

The first group of legitimate OTT services include Netflix, YouTube, and some of the websites of Canadian broadcasters which allow streaming of content over the full range of Internet access service offerings in Canada.

The second group of services, which I believe should be declared illegal under Section 77 of Canada's Competition Act, related provisions under Canada's Telecommunications Act, and likely the Copyright Act (some copyright exceptions that legalized BDUs don't apply to OTT), include Shomi (Rogers, Shaw), CraveTV (Bell), and Fibe TV (Bell).

The harm of allowing this tied selling between content delivery services and specific brands of communications services cannot be underestimated.  The best way to protect the interests of Canadian creators and their audiences is to enable and protect an open marketplace that minimizes commercial barriers between these two groups.  Canadians who wish to access and pay for content made by fellow Canadians should not have intermediaries blocking their transactions.  One of the greatest advancements in communications technology for the benefit of these groups has been the growth of the Internet and neutral communications technologies.

The greatest threat to creators and their audiences is attempts by legacy communications technology providers to block or otherwise delay this distribution technology neutrality.  Government should take special care with proposals from people alleging to represent creators who suggest the welfare of creative sectors are tied to specific distribution brands, as evidence suggests they are under a form of Stockholm syndrome.  These individuals are not putting forward the interests of creators, but the interests of the intermediaries which represent their greatest threat.  Reading the Ontario government submission to the CRTC's "Let's Talk TV" consultation suggests it was authored by or on behalf of people with this harmful point of view.

I believe the primary objective of OTT service regulation should be to further foster and protect content distribution neutrality.  As with other policy goals there are a wide variety of policy levers that can be harnessed.

CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais has recently announced decisions  that suggest that agency will be appropriately targeting non-neutral OTT services like Shomi and CraveTV with additional regulatory obligations than what will be required of neutral OTT services (CRTC 2015-86).  While Steven Davidson, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, called for the reverse, I hope that the Ontario government will reverse its regulatory direction and help promote a healthy modern video content sector.

A small sampling of proposals:

* The companies that own the non-neutral OTT services have been the beneficiaries of many decades or longer of grants, tax breaks, government granted monopolies, and in some cases public infrastructure handouts.  One small way to help level the playing field is to provide directed content production grants to new entrants, encouraging original content by neutral OTT services to be produced in Ontario and Canada. These grants should not be available to non-neutral OTT services, their owners, or companies owned by their owners.

* Any existing government grants and programs which support content creation, whether audio/visual, audio, multimedia, text or otherwise, should be conditioned on the outputs being made available to citizens in a distribution neutral way.  Content which would be exclusively licensed to specific distribution mechanisms, including OTA, BDU (Cable/Satellite), or non-neutral OTT services would not qualify for these programs.

* Any proposals or promotions of a "Netflix tax", "YouTube Tax" or similar counterproductive proposals should be clearly revoked both publicly and in any behind-the-scenes lobbying.  Anyone who is honestly looking for a level playing field between neutral OTT and non-neutral OTT services should recognize that it is the non-neutral OTT services which have had decades of unfair government granted advantage which should be reversed.  Far from a "tax" on neutral services, there should be additional government grants for neutral services.  I don't  propose a tax on non-neutral services as I believe the CRTC and the Competition Bureau should declare these services unlawful and force them to become neutral services or shut down.

* While traditional CanCon is not a provincial responsibility, I believe there is a place for provincial involvement if CanCon rules are finally modernized and adjusted for the current content distribution reality.  The strength of CanCon rules should reflect the level of intermediary editorial control.   Services where Canadians are free to choose what they access from a large catalog with minimal intermediary interference should have a minimum of regulation, while services that have greater intermediary editorial control should have stronger regulation.  I don't believe CanCon should apply to Netflix or YouTube, but strongly believe this regulation applies to traditional OTA and BDU broadcasting.  I believe CanCon should also apply to a growing class of physical retailers like Walmart which through display and stocking choices have effective editorial control.

Thank you, and I look forward to a reply.  I apologize for the length of the letter, but this is an area of policy that is too complex for soundbites.  The health of the neutral network sector is of great importance to me as both a consumer and as someone who works in the Internet sector.  This is part of a larger area of policy I watch closely, and is one that greatly influences my voting and related political choices.

Russell McOrmond
305 Southcrest Private,
Ottawa, ON
K1V 2B7