Tag Archives: commentary

CBC: A Case Study in what happens when the Lawyers take over

Like many other people, I’ve been following the virtual meltdown at the CBC over its new (i)copyright rules. For a great summary of the back and forth I strongly encourage you to check out Jesse Brown’s blog. In short the terms of use of the CBC seemed to suggest that no one was allowed to report/reprint excerpts of CBC pieces without the CBC express permission. This, as Cameron McMaster noted, actually runs counter to Canadian copyright law.

And yes, the CBC has been moving quickly and relatively transparently to address this matter and hopefully clearer rules – that are consistent with Canadian law – will emerge. That said, even as they try, the organization will still have a lot of work to do to persuade its readers it isn’t from Mars when it comes to understanding the internet. Consider this devastating line from the CBC’s spokeperson in response to the outcry.

You’ll also still be able to post links to CBC.ca content on blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter or other online media at no charge and will continue to offer free RSS stories for websites (found here).

Really? I’m still allowed to link to the CBC? How is this even under discussion? Who charges people to link to their site? How is that even possible?

Well, if you think that that is weird, it gets weirder. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find what what appears to have so far gone unnoticed in the current debate over the CBC’s bizarre terms of use. On the CBC’s Reuse and Permissions FAQ page the second question and answer reads as follows:

Can we link to your site?
We encourage people to link to us. However, we ask that you read our Terms of Use, which outline the conditions by which external sites may link to ours.

So what are the CBC’s terms of use to linking to their site? Well this is when the Lawyers really take over:

While CBC/Radio Canada encourages links to the Web site, it does not wish to be linked to or from any third-party web site which (i) contains, posts or transmits any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libellous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including, without limitation, any content constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, provincial, national or international law, regulation which may be damaging or detrimental to the activities, operations, credibility or integrity of CBC/Radio Canada or which contains, posts or transmits any material or information of any kind which promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual, could be harmful to minors, harasses or advocates harassment of another person, provides material that exploits people under the age of 18 in a sexual or violent manner, provides instructional information about illegal activities, including, without limitation, the making or buying of illegal weapons; or (ii) contains, posts or transmits any information, software or other material which violates or infringes upon the rights of others, including material which is an invasion of privacy or publicity rights, or which is protected by copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights. CBC/Radio Canada reserves the right to prohibit or refuse to accept any link to the Web site, including, without limitation, any link which contains or makes available any content or information of the foregoing nature, at any time. You agree to remove any link you may have to the Web site upon the request of CBC/Radio Canada.

This sounds all legal and proper. And hey, I don’t want bigots or child molesters linking to my site either. But that doesn’t mean I can legally prevent them.

The CBC’s terms of use uses language that suggests they have the right to prevent you, or anyone from linking to their website. But from a practical, business strategy and legal perspective it is completely baffling.

In my mind, this is akin to the CBC claiming that it can prevent you from telling people their address or giving them directions to their buildings. Or, the CBC is claiming dominion over every website in the world and that they may dictate whether or not it can link to their site.

I have my suspicions that there is nothing in Canadian law to support the CBC’s position. If anyone knows of a law or decision that would support the CBC’s terms of use please do send me a note or comment below.

Otherwise, I hope the CBC will also edit this part of its Terms of Use and its Reuse and Permissions FAQ page. We need the organization to be in the 21st century.

The Internet as Surveillance Tool

There is a deliciously ironic, pathetically sad and deeply frightening story coming out of France this week.

On January 1st France’s new (and controversial law) Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet otherwise known by its abbreviation – Hadopi – came into effect. The law makes it illegal to download copyright protected works and uses a “three-strikes” system of enforcement. The first two times an individual illegally downloads copyrighted content (knowingly or unknowingly) they receive a warning. Upon the third infraction the entire household has its internet access permanently cut off and is added to a blacklist. To restore internet access the households’ computers must be outfitted with special monitoring software which tracks everything the computer does and every website it visits.

Over at FontFeed, Yves Peters chronicles how the French Agency designated with enforcing the legislation, also named Hadopi, illegally used a copyrighted font, without the permission of its owner, in their logo design. Worse, once caught the organization tried to cover up this fact by lying to the public. I can imagine that fonts and internet law are probably not your thing, but the story really is worth reading (and is beautifully told).

But as sad, funny and ironic as the story is, it is deeply scary. Hadopi, which is intended to prevent the illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, couldn’t even launch without (innocently or not) breaking the law. They however, are above the law. There will be no repercussions for the organization and no threat that its internet access will be cut off.

The story for French internet users will, however, be quite different. Over the next few months I wouldn’t be surprised if tens, or even hundreds of thousands of French citizens (or their children, or someone else in their home) inadvertently download copyrighted material illegally and, in order to continue to have access to the internet, will be forced to acquiesce to allowing the French Government to monitor everything they do on their computer. In short, Hadopi will functionally become a system of mass surveillance – a tool to enable the French government to monitor the online activities of more and more of its citizens. Indeed, it is conceivable that after a few years a significant number and possibly even a majority of French computers could be monitored. Forget Google. In France, the government is the Big Brother you need to worry about.

Internet users in other countries should also be concerned. “Three Strikes” provisions likes those adopted by France have allegedly been discussed during the negotiations of ACTA, an international anti-counterfeiting treaty that is being secretly negotiated between a number of developed countries.

Suddenly copyright becomes a vehicle to justify the governments right to know everything you do online. To ensure some of your online activities don’t violate copyright online, all online activities will need to be monitored. France, and possibly your country soon too, will thus transform the internet, the greatest single vehicle for free thought and expression, into a giant wiretap.

(Oh, and just in case you thought the French already didn’t understand the internet, it gets worse. Read this story from the economist. How one country can be so backward is hard to imagine).

Facebook, Politics and Proroguing Parliament

I’ve got a special to the Globe and Mail this morning titled Harper underestimates Facebook at his own peril. I’m happy and surprised to see the piece has climbed to the top of the site in terms of views (see sidebar)

Part of it is born out of the fact that a number of political commentators seem to discount online political engagement. I cite Matt Gurney in the piece as he seems to be upset about the current facebook group – although he was notably silent last year when there was a facebook group supporting the Conservatives and even attended a rally in Toronto that the online group helped organized.

Globe and Mail Most Viewed 2010-01-11 at 8.49.19 AMOf course, National Post commentators have a history of flip flopping depending on what helps or hurts the Conservatives so I’ll concede they may not have been the best group to cite.

More frustrating is the At Issue political panel on the CBC where Susan Delacourt says, “it is easy to just click on something, we’ll have to see what happens at the rallies” and Coyne saying “Will people show up at rallies.” (Around minute 9:30 onward)

What?

So politics only matters if it is hard? Next thing we know is that they’ll not only be against electronic voting, but promoting a system where you get to vote only after you’ve successfully run the Wipe Out obstacle course. Because only then will a voter have demonstrated that their vote should REALLY count!

obstacle courseSo pundit summary: We want citizens to care about parliament and are glad they are on facebook… but it only really begins to count once they start marching. Like we did back in the 60s.

Glad we cleared that up.

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #7 (2009 Edition): Explaining the New to the Old

Back in 2007 I published a list of top ten blogging moments – times I felt blogging resulted in something fun or interesting. I got numerous notes from friends who found it fun to read (though some were not fans) so I’m giving it another go. Even without these moments it has been rewarding, but it is nice to reflect on them to understand why spending so many hours, often late at night, trying to post 4 times a week can give you something back that no paycheck can offer. Moreover, this is a chance to celebrate some good fortune and link to people who’ve made this project a little more fun. So here we go…

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #7 (2009 Edition): Explaining the New to the Old

This year I felt the Opinion page of the Globe needed a loyal opposition. With pretty much every columnist over 50 and most over 60 I was getting tired of hearing how social media was destroying media (and democracy) (it isn’t), global warming didn’t exist, twitter was useless (it isn’t), Palin is a better orator than Obama (she isn’t) and young people don’t care about their country (they do)

If you’ve tuned out of the Globe’s opinion page don’t worry, you’re not alone. You likely are either:

a) under 40;
b) use the internet;
c) think evidence and science matter; or
d) all of the above

The only reason it is depressing is that I believe the Globe matters and I fear they’ve given up on attracting readers who answered (a) to the above.

However, protesting has led to lots of fun, including this debate with Michael Valpy (him, me, him, me) and this response to Lawrence Martin’s piece which, more exciting still, became part of the reading list for Queen’s Pols 110 course.

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #8 (2009 Edition): Blogging leads to Book Chapters!

Back in 2007 I published a list of top ten blogging moments – times I felt blogging resulted in something fun or interesting. I got numerous notes from friends who found it fun to read (though some were not fans) so I’m giving it another go. Even without these moments it has been rewarding, but it is nice to reflect on them to understand why spending so many hours, often late at night, trying to post 4 times a week can give you something back that no paycheck can offer. Moreover, this is a chance to celebrate some good fortune and link to people who’ve made this project a little more fun. So here we go…

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #8 (2009 Edition): Blogging leads to Book Chapters!

First, my blogging, writing, work, consulting and public speaking on public service sector renewal earns me the opportunity to write a chapter in O’Reilly Media’s upcoming book on Open Government.

Needless to say, I’m excited.

(Shameless plug within a shameless list: I’ll be giving a talk about open, technology social change and the future of government, some of the themes covered in the chapter, at the Ontario College of Art and Design on January 14th. Details and tickets here, 200 gone, about 60 left.)

Second, after passing it under the noses of numerous magazine editors who expressed interest but ultimately pass it up, Taylor and I decide to simply publish Missing The Link: Why Old Media still doesn’t get the Internet as a website.

The sad news: We wrote it 3 years ago And I think it is just as relevant today.

The good news: Looks like an academic publisher is very interested and will be turning it a chapter for a book. Hurray for just putting stuff out there.

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #9 (2009 Edition): Rankings!

Back in 2007 I published a list of top ten blogging moments – times I felt blogging resulted in something fun or interesting. I got numerous notes from friends who found it fun to read (though some were not fans) so I’m giving it another go. Even without these moments it has been rewarding, but it is nice to reflect on them to understand why spending so many hours, often late at night, trying to post 4 times a week can give you something back that no paycheck can offer. Moreover, this is a chance to celebrate some good fortune and link to people who’ve made this project a little more fun. So here we go…

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #9 (2009 Edition): Rankings!

Eaves.ca gets ranked as the 5th most popular Canadian political blog on a Dime a Dozen‘s blog. I’m fairly certain that some of the other blogs lower on the list may get more traffic, but then maybe not… Either way, it was nice to be mentioned.

I’ve noticed I’ve dropped off the list – it may be that the curator has decided my blog isn’t sufficiently political (I do blog about many things) since my Google juice (page rank of 6) and Alexa ranking (444,095) should have had me in 5 place again…. either way it nice to make anyone’s list.

Also nice was that someone nominated me for a Canadian Blog Award. I don’t know who it was, but thank you! Both the top 25 list and the awards take a lot of work so definitely want to send out a thank you to the curators of both for simply keeping them up regardless of whether I’m on them or not.

This stuff aside, my traffic has been up markedly this year, which has been nice. So mostly, I want to thank readers for simply showing up.

Eaves.ca blogging moment #10 (2009 Edition): The CPSR Rat Pack

Back in 2007 I published a list of top ten blogging moments – times I felt blogging resulted in something fun or interesting. I got numerous notes from friends who found it fun to read (though some were not fans) so I’m giving it another go. Even without these moments it has been rewarding, but it is nice to reflect on them to understand why spending so many hours, often late at night, trying to post 4 times a week can give you something back that no paycheck can offer. Moreover, this is a chance to celebrate some good fortune and link to people who’ve made this project a little more fun. So here we go…

#10 Finding the Canadian Public Service Sector Renewal Rat Pack

Through blogging and twitter I discovered a community of public service sector renewal geeks who are equally driven by passion and a belief in the importance of a vibrant, successful and modern public service.

I’ve met some of this crew in the flesh, others I know only through email, comments, reading their blogs or twitter. But whether I’ve met them or not they have been a real community – a group of people with whom I can bounce ideas off of and explore new thoughts. More importantly, we support one another.

Without my blog, I’m not sure I’d have found them or them me.

So three cheers to the Rat Pack of Public Service Sector Renewal. Everyone should be so lucky as to find peers like these.

Some of the Rat Pack members include: Nick Charney, Etienne Laliberte, Peter Cowan, Thomas Kearney, Laura Wesley, Chelsea Edgell, David Hume, Doug Bastien, Tariq Piracha, Jeff Braybrook, Richard Smith, Stephanie Hayes and Bowen Moren.

A Sad Day for Canadian Democracy

I, like many other people, was unsurprised but depressed to hear about the prorogation of Parliament yesterday. Lots has been written on it, much of it very intelligent, some of it not.

Andrew Coyne has a fantastic piece about how, as Radiohead would sing, you do it to yourself and that Parliament has consistently allowed itself to become irrelevant through a thousand small cuts. He is also correct in asserting that only its members can make it relevant again.

Kady O’Malley probably has the best insight in this interview. Why prorogue yesterday? Why not wait until when the House comes back in January in case some emergency arose that required Parliament’s attention. The unusual timing suggests the government wants to avoid letting committees or Parliamentarians do their work (mostly likely on the Afghan detainee problem).

On the less inspired side is conservative blogger Stephen Taylor. Stephen has good post and does as good a job as anyone can expect defending the indefensible. But ultimately, nothing he says counters O’Malley’s point. Moreover, his attempt to suggest that proroguing is constitutionally required (not even the PMO is making this claim) and that it is only those in Opposition who are acting politically is demolished by Ibbitson’s deadly and even handed column on the subject (very much worth reading).

Let there be no mistake, this is a political move.

Just as it was back in 2003 when (as Ibbitson rightly points out) Chretien prorogued Parliament in 2003 to avoid critics of the sponsorship program. Note this was also the time when Chretien’s popularity began to slide… So do people care about the Afghan detainee problem? No (just like they didn’t initially care about the sponsorship scandal). They DO care when their government ceases to be accountable, when it runs and hides from its mistakes. Doing so irrevocably hurt Chretien. It may end up doing the same to this government.

Either way, as pretty much every columnist seems to be saying, today our democracy is a little weaker, and Parliament a little less relevant.

The Supreme Court of Canada: There are no journalists, only citizens

I’ll confess some confusion around the slant taken by several newspapers and media outfits regarding yesterday’s supreme court decision on defense of libel claims.

For those new to this story, yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a libel claim can be defeated even when the facts or allegations made turn out to be false (e.g. I don’t owe you money if I say something nasty and untrue about you) as long as the story was in the public interest and I met a certain standard around trying to ascertain the truth. In short, my intentions, not my output, is what matters most. This new line of defense has a fancy new name to go with it… the defence of responsible communication.

Boring, and esoteric? Hardly.

Notice how it isn’t called “the defence of responsible journalism?” (although, ahem, someone should let CTV know). This story matters as it demonstrates that the law is finally beginning to grasp what the internet means for our democracy and society.

Sadly, the Globe, CBC, National Post and CTV (indeed everyone with the exception of Colby Cosh at Macleans) all framed the decision as being about journalism and journalists.

It isn’t.

This is about all us – and our rights and responsible in a democracy in the internet age. Indeed, as if to hammer home this point the justices went out of their way to in their decision to essentially say: there is no such thing as “a journalist” in the legal sense.

A second preliminary question is what the new defence should be called.  In arguments before us, the defence was referred to as the responsible journalism test.  This has the value of capturing the essence of the defence in succinct style.  However, the traditional media are rapidly being complemented by new ways of communicating on matters of public interest, many of them online, which do not involve journalists.  These new disseminators of news and information should, absent good reasons for exclusion, be subject to the same laws as established media outlets.  I agree with Lord Hoffmann that the new defence is “available to anyone who publishes material of public interest in any medium” [paragraph 96]

and early they went ever further:

The press and others engaged in public communication on matters of public interest, like bloggers, must act carefully, having regard to the injury to reputation that a false statement can cause. [paragraph 62]

If you are going to say “blogger” you might as well say “citizen.”  All the more so when “publishing material of public interest in any medium” includes blogs, twitter, an SMS text message, a youtube video… mediums through which anyone can publish and broadcast.

Rather than being about journalism this case was about freedom of expression and about laying a legal framework for a post-journalism world. Traditional journalists benefit as well (which is nice – and there will still be demand for their services) but the decision is so much broader and far reaching than them. At its core, this is about what one citizen can say about another citizen, be that in the Globe, on CBC, on my blog, or anywhere. And rather than celebrate or connote any unique status upon journalist it does the opposite. The ruling acknowledges that we are all now journalists and that we need a legal regime that recognizes this reality.

I suspect some journalists will likely protest this post. But the ruling reflects reality. The notion of journalists as a professional class was and has always been problematic. There are no standards to guide the profession and no professional college to supervise members (as there is with the legal or medical profession). Some institutions take on the role of standard setting themselves (read journalism schools and media outlets) but they have no enforcement capacity and ultimately this is not a self-regulated profession. Rather, it has always been regulated by the courts. Technology has just made that more evident, and now the courts have too. Today, when speaking of others we are all a little better protected, and also have the burden of behaving a little more responsibly.

Articles I'm Digesting 15/12/2009

Here are some pieces I’ve been reading of late:

You Can’t Handle the Truth by Mark Pothier in the Boston Globe

A great piece about how the classification of drugs used by most Western countries is completely divorced from how much harm those drugs cause. This isn’t surprising, but as the evidence begins to mount regarding which drugs are actually harmful (read alcohol, cocaine or heroine) versus those which are significantly less harmful (read Ecstasy or LSD) the question will increasingly emerge – will science ever inform our policies around managing these types of substances. Indeed, it is disturbing (and, er… sobering) to once again see the only  substance I use the list – alcohol – be put in such a stark and negative light.

At some point a real conversation about drugs is going to occur in the United States – I just hope it is sooner rather than later as it will have a profound effect on effectively we can deal with the tragic situation we have around substance abuse this side of the border.

Fla. Court Tells Judges and Lawyers to “Unfriend” Each Other (the AP)

Always fascinating to see how different fields respond to social networking. In this case a Florida…

…committee ruled Nov. 17 that online “friendships” could create the impression that lawyers are in a special position to influence their judge friends.

This is a great example of how social networking can cause some professions to actually become less transparent and, I would argue, harms the long term credibility of the institution. Notice here that the committee isn’t ruling that judges and lawyers can’t be friends, they are ruling that it would be harmful if the public could see that they are friends. So, in essence, if being a friend compromises the judgment of a judge, we solve that by preventing the public from seeing that the conflict could exist, rather than dealing with the conflict. Weird.

The last line is priceless:

McGrady, who is sending a copy of the ruling to the 69 judges in his circuit, said this potential conflict of interest is why he doesn’t have a Facebook page.

“If somebody’s my friend, I’ll call them on the phone,” he said, chuckling.

Errr, right. Good to keep it all in the old boys network where those on the inside know where the conflict may lie, but there is not digital trail or map that might allow the public to be better informed… Oh, and you’re the last generation that will only “pick up the phone” so this solution has, at best, a 20 year shelf life to it.

The Killer App of 1900 by Glenn Fleishman in Publicola

As some readers know, I’m a big fan of historical examples that show we are experiencing similar pressures, transformations, evolutions as experienced in the past. Part of it is the historian in me, part of it is how it helps ease the minds of those concerned or intimidated by change. There are, occasionally, genuinely new things that appear under the sun – but often those of us interested in technology and social change are too quick to scream “This is new! It changes everything!” Moreover, it does a disservice to our efforts often making people more skeptical, resistant and generally conservative towards the perceived change. Still more importantly, the past often sheds light on how power and influence created by a new technology or system may diffuse itself – who will be the winners/losers and the resisters.

In this context this article is a priceless example of the type of writing I wish I did more of.

The Score: Advice to Young Composers by Annie Gosfield in the New York Times

While written as sounds advice for composers, this is (as the friend who sent it to me said) sounds advice for policy wonks or, in my opinion, bloggers as well. (It’s actually just sounds advice for life).

A couple of credos in the piece that I hope my work, and this blog lives by:

Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously: Hope that is evident in my writing style.

Be willing to put yourself and your music on the line: Try to do that everyday here on the blog.

Don’t fear rejection: Something a blog is really good at teaching you.

A couple of credos in the piece I know I struggle with:

Don’t assume you know what’s accessible to the audience and what isn’t: Although counter to what the piece says, I occasionally run into a friend who says “I had NO idea what you were talking about in X blog post.” It is crushing to hear – but also really good. I do want to challenge readers but I also want to be accessible. Do let me know if I ever get to a place where a newbie is going to be totally lost.

Details count: So, er, anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I have the occasional typo in a post, here or there… Blogging longish pieces four times a week is draining, and so I don’t proof as much as I could (plus it is hard to see one’s own errors). But I could do better.

Hope you enjoy these pieces as much as I did!