Tag Archives: internet

What Canada’s Realtors could learn from Canada’s Lawyers

Lawyers aren’t generally known to be the most technologically forwarding looking group – but here in Canada they have done one thing really, really well. Making radically efficient the transaction costs around sharing critical information regarding their industry.

CanLII – the non-profit managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada has the goal “to make Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet.” In essence CanLII copies all of the materials produced by the courts, organizes it and makes it searchable and re-usable by anyone. For realtors wondering about their future, looking over this service might be a good place to start.

Consider MLS.ca (now rebranded as realtor.ca) the website run by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) that shares information on what homes are for sale where. A few of you may also know that the Competition Bureau and CREA have recently been tangling over access to MLS. While the it is now easier for people to list properties on MLS, the data within MLS is very restricted. Much of the data only realtors can see and re-use of the data appears strictly verboten. These restrictions cause Canadians to suffer from what I like to call the Hulu Syndrome – they can see what a more open system would look like by surfing the various property websites in the United States – but they are stuck using MLS when trying to browse for a home to buy.

Canadian realtors wanting to know what the future looks like for a professional service in a world where data and information is widely available, CanLII offers both a window and a model. Unlike MLS, the great thing about CanLII is that it serves everyone, not just lawyers. It isn’t hard to imagine a world where lawyers insisted that only they can access the cataloging system they pay for (lawyers pay a small annual fee to support CanLII) much like only realtors can access the full database of MLS. In such world if you wanted to read a judgement, or view court documents on a specific case, only a lawyer could access it for you, and then they would interpret it for you, and, to carry the analogy to its logically conclusion, you would rarely or likely never see the original documents.

Thankfully for both the legal system, the market place for legal services and for our democracy, CanLII doesn’t work this way. As mentioned anyone can search, find and download all the information. Indeed, look at CanLII’s Terms of Use:

Subject to the following paragraph and the below conditions pertaining to prohibited use, legal materials published on the CanLII website, such as legislation, regulations and decisions, including editorial enhancements inserted into the documents by CanLII, such as hyperlinks and information in headers and footers, can be copied, printed and distributed by Users free of charge and without any other authorization from CanLII, provided that CanLII is identified as the source of the document.

Compare this to MLS’s terms of use:

This database and all materials on this site are protected by copyright laws and are owned by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) or by the member who has supplied the data. Property listings and other data available on this site are intended for the private, non-commercial use by individuals. Any commercial use of the listings or data in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, is specifically forbidden except with the prior written authority of the owner of the copyright.

(Side note, I’m pretty sure you can’t copyright data – so not sure what the legal rights being exercised here are).

Of course, even though CanLI makes legal documents are freely available, many people still want to use lawyers because they don’t have time or, just as often, realize they need expert advice in this complicated field.

The same would be true of MLS. Many, many buyers will still want to use a realtor, although the buyers and sellers in the market place would be smarter and more informed – but this would probably lead to a better marketplace and happier customers. There are of course, a number of buyers and sellers who will simply freeload off MLS’s data to sell or buy their home on their own (much like some people probably “freeload” off CanLII to represent themselves or do research). But these are probably clients who would prefer to be doing it this way anyway – giving them full access to the database may cause them to a) realize they do need professional help or b) remove customers who don’t really want to use a realtor in the first place and are thus… terrible customers.

This isn’t to say that sharing MLS data won’t be disruptive, I suspect that some people will automate the buying/selling process which a percentage of the market place will prefer to a handheld process – but I suspect that, at some point, this will happen anyway (someone will figure out a model to make it work) at which point CREA and the realtors will have been firmly entrenched in the minds of Canadians as the obstacle to a better, more efficient marketplace, not the leaders who helped foster it.

Lawyers aren’t often known for clarity and simplicity, but clearly when they get it right, they get it right. I hope other professional services will look at what they are up to.

Some theories on why Canadians are the #1 user of YouTube (it's not all good)

In theory I’m on break – trying to recharge my batteries, summit mount inbox zero and finish off a couple of papers I owe various good people – but a few people have sent me links to this story (same content here at the CBC), about how Canadians are embrace the web like few others citizens of the world.

Naturally I’m thrilled and unsurprised. Canadians live in a large country and connectivity has always been something that has driven us. Indeed the country as we know it only exists because of a deal on connectivity – my own province of British Columbia agreed to enter the Dominion only if a transcontinental railway was built to connect it with the rest of the emerging country. Connectivity is in our blood.

There is, however, I suspect another reason why Canadians have taken to the web and it has to do with our monopolies and content regulation.

The article notes that Canada is the number one viewer of YouTube videos:

“In Canada, YouTube per capita consumption of video is No. 1 in the world, it’s just absolutely crazy in terms of how passionate Canadians are about YouTube,” said Chris O’Neill, Canada’s country director for Google.

I wonder, however, if this is because of Canada’s proximity to and familiarity with American created content, but our limited access to seeing said content. The CRTC restricts Canadians access to US channels (and as a result, TV shows). Consequently, much like I argued that the continued success of Blockbuster in Canada is not a sign of effective corporate management but poor innovation strategy and telecommunication regulation Canadians may be flooding to YouTube because they can’t access the content they want through more traditional channels.

If true (and I concede I don’t know what Canadians are watching on YouTube) then on the brightside, this is good news for Canadian consumers are able to get what they want access to, regardless of how the government tries to shape their tastes. Indeed, I suspect that American content isn’t the only thing driving YouTube traffic, as a country of immigrants I’m sure that new (and longstanding) Canadians of a range of backgrounds use YouTube to stay on top of culture, shows and other content from their countries of origin. If all this is helping Canadians become more web savvy and appreciative of the benefits of an open web – then all the better!

On the flip side, this could be a sign that a whole series of Canadian companies (and the jobs they create) are imperiled because they refuse to innovate as quickly as Canadians would like. This isn’t a reason to preserve them, but it is a reason for us to start demanding more from the executives of these companies.

Pentagon Papers vs Cablegate and wikileaks as the new porn

I’ve been trying trying to play around with a graphic to show the difference between the wikileaks driven cablegate and the pentagon papers (ah to live in an era before the suffix gate appeared everywhere).

Here is the best I’ve got so far – would love to hear others suggestions or their own versions.


While doing this yesterday, something came over my desk that showed me how completely backwards parts of the US government has become around dealing with wikileaks. Turns out that the US Airforce has banned access to the New York Times and the Guardian because of wikileaks. Of course discussions about the leaked documents and their contents are not limited to these websites… one presumes that banning access to the Internet is what comes next?

The Air Force “routinely blocks Air Force network access to websites hosting inappropriate materials or malware (malicious software) and this includes any website that hosts classified materials and those that are released by WikiLeaks,” she said.

Apparently wikileaks is malware. Or it is porn.

More importantly, the government is telling its employees to blind themselves. That they should pretend like the information about wikleaks, the leaked documents and how the world is reacting to it – the type of information an organization whose mission it is to engage with allies and a public that care about this a great deal – doesn’t exist. If some information is bad… more information must be worse!

The attempt at thought control is all kind of Orwellian. It’s also doomed to fail. In the 21st century, information and knowledge is power. Cut yourself off from it and you cut yourself off from your capacity to think and react effectively. In other words the US Airforce has been played. They are doing pretty much what I think wikileaks was trying to accomplish.

The Web and the End of Forgetting: the upside of down

A reader recently pointed me to a fantastic article in the New York Times entitled The Web and the End of Forgetting which talks about the downside of a world where one’s history is permanently recorded on the web. It paints of the dangers of a world where one can never escape one’s past – where mistakes from college rear their head in interviews and where bad choices constrain the ability to start anew.

It is, frankly, a terrifying view of the world.

I also think it is both overblown and, imagines a world where the technology changes, but our social condition does not. Indeed, the reader sent me the piece because it reminded him of a talk and subsequent blog post I wrote exactly a year ago on the same topic.

But let’s take the worse case scenario at face value. While the ability to start anew is important, at times I look forward to a world where there is a little more history. A world where choices and arguments can be traced. A world of personal accountability.

Broadcast media fostered a world where one could argue one position and then, a few months later, take the exact opposite stand. Without easily accessible indexes and archives discerning these patterns was difficult, if not impossible. With digitization, that has all changed.

The Daily Show remains the archetype example of this. The entire show is predicated on having a rich archival history of all the major network and cable news broadcasts and having the capacity, on a nightly basis, to put the raw hypocrisy of pundits and politicians on display.

The danger of course, is if this is brought to the personal level. The NYT article identifies and focuses on them. But what of the upsides? In a world where reputation matters, people may become more thoughtful. It will be interesting to witness a world where grandparents have to explain to their grandchildren why they were climate change deniers on their Facebook page. Or why you did, or didn’t join a given political campaign, or protest against a certain cause.

Ultimately, I think all this remembering leads to a more forgiving society, at least in personal and familial relationships, but the world of pundits and bloggers and politicans may become tougher. Those who found themselves very much on the wrong side of history, may have a hard time living it down. The next version of the daily show may await us all. But not saying anything may not be a safe strategy either. Those who have no history, who never said anything at anytime, may not be seen relevant, or worse, could be seen as having no convictions or beliefs.

I loved the New York Times article, but it looked at society as a place where social values will remain unchanged, where we won’t adapt to our technology and place greater emphasis on new values. I can imagine a world where our children may say – how did you have friends with so little personal history? It may not be our ideal world, but then, our grandparents world wasn’t one I would have wanted to live in either.

Mick Jagger & why copyright doesn't always help artists

I recently read this wonderful interview with Mick Jagger on the BBC website which had this fantastic extract about the impact of the internet on the music industry. What I love about this interview is that Mick Jagger is, of course, about as old a legend as you can find in the music industry.

…I’m talking about the internet.

But that’s just one facet of the technology of music. Music has been aligned with technology for a long time. The model of records and record selling is a very complex subject and quite boring, to be honest.

But your view is valid because you have a huge catalogue, which is worth a lot of money, and you’ve been in the business a long time, so you have perspective.

Well, it’s all changed in the last couple of years. We’ve gone through a period where everyone downloaded everything for nothing and we’ve gone into a grey period it’s much easier to pay for things – assuming you’ve got any money.

Are you quite relaxed about it?

I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don’t make as much money out of records.

But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

So what does this have to do with copyright? Well, remember, the record labels and other content distributors (not creators!) keep saying how artists will starve unless there is copyright. But understand that for the entire 110-year period that Mick Jagger is referencing there was copyright… and yet artists were paid to record LPs and records for only a small fraction (less than a quarter) of that period. During the rest of the time, the way they made money was by performing. There is nothing about a stronger copyright regime that ensures artists (the creators!) will receive for more money or compensation.

So when the record labels say that without stricter copyright legislation artists will suffer, what they really mean to say is one specific business model – one that requires distributors and that they happen to do well by – will suffer. Artists, who traditionally never received much from the labels (and even during this 25 year period only a tiny few profited handsomely) have no guarantees that with stricter copyright they will see more revenue. No, rather, the distributors will simply own their content for longer and have greater control over its use.

This country is about to go into a dark, dark place with the new copyright legislation. I suspect we will end up stalled for 30 years and cultural innovation will shift to other parts of the world where creativity, remix culture and forms of artistic expression are kept more free.

Again, as Lessig says:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

Welcome to copyright reform. A Canada where the past controls the creativity that gets built upon it.

Digital Economy Strategy: Why we risk asking the wrong question

Far better an approximate answer to the right question, than the exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise….

John Tukey

I’ve always admired Paul Erdos, the wandering mathematician who I first learned about by reading his obituary in the Economist back in 1996 (and later learned was a friend and frequent house guest of my grandfather’s). What I remember best about that economist obituary was how one of his students talking about his genius not lying in his capacity to produce mathematical proofs, but in his ability to ask the right question, which set events in motion so that the proof could be found at all.

It is with that idea in mind that I turn to the Canada 3.0 conference here in Stratford Ontario where I’ve been invited to take part in a meeting with industry types and policy leaders to talk about what Canada must do to become a leading digital nation by 2017. The intent is to build on last year’s Stratford Declaration and develop an action plan.

So what do I think we need to do? First, I think we need to ask the right question.

I think we need to stop talking about a digital as the future.

This whole conversation isn’t about being a digital country. It isn’t about a future where everything is going to be digitized. That isn’t the challenge. It is already happening. It’s done. It’s over. Canada is already well on its way to becoming digital. Anyone who uses MS Word to write a document is digital. I’ve been submitting papers using a word processor since high school (this comes from a place of privilege, something I’ll loop back to). Worse, talking about digital means talking about technology like servers or standards or business models like Bell, or Google or Music Producers and all the other things that don’t matter.

The dirty truth is that Canada’s digital future isn’t about digital. What is special isn’t that everything is being digitized. It’s that everything is being connected. The web isn’t interesting because you can read it on a computer screen. It is special because of hyperlinks – that information is connected to other information (again, something the newspaper have yet to figure out). So this is a conversation about connectivity. It is about the policy and legal structure needed when me, you, information, and places, when everything, everywhere is connected to everything else, everywhere persistently. That’s the big change.

So if a digital economy strategy is really about a networked economy strategy, and what makes a networked economy work better is stronger and more effective connectivity, then the challenge isn’t about what happens when something shifts from physical to digital. It is about how we promote the connectivity of everything to everything in a fair manner. How do we make ourselves the most networked country, in the physical, legally and policy terms. This is the challenge.

Viewed in this frame. We do indeed have some serious challenges and are already far behind many others when it comes to connectivity if we want to be a global leader by 2017. So what are the key issues limiting or preventing connectivity and what are the consequences of a networked economy we need to be worried about? How about:

  • Expensive and poor broadband and mobile access in (in both remote and urban communities)
  • Throttling and threats to Net Neutrality
  • Using copyright as a vehicle to limit the connectivity of information (ACTA) or threaten peoples right to connect
  • Using copyright as a vehicle to protect business models built on limiting peoples capacity to connect to innovations and ideas
  • Government’s that don’t connect their employees to one another and the public
  • It’s also about connective rights. Individual rights to limit connectivity to privacy, and right to freely associate and disassociate

So what are the three things we need to start thinking about immediately?

If connectivity is the source of innovation, wealth and prosperity then how do we ensure that Canadians are the most connected citizens in the world?

1)    a net neutral broadband and mobile market place where the costs of access are the lowest in the world.

That is would be a source of enormous competitive advantage and a critical stepping stone to ensuring access to education and an innovation fueled economy. Sadly, we have work to do. Take for example, the fact that we have the worst cell phone penetration rates in the developed world. This at a time when cellphone internet access is overtaking desktop internet access.

But more importantly, I was lucky to be able to use a word processor 20 years ago. Today, not having access to the internet is tantamount to preventing a child from being able to go to the library, or worse, preventing them from learning to read. Affordable access is not a rural or urban issue. It’s a rights and basic education issue.

Equally important is that the network remain a neutral platform upon which anyone can innovate. The country that allows its networks to grant (or sell) certain companies or individuals special privileges is one that one that will quickly fall behind the innovation curve. New companies and business models inevitable displace established players. If those established players are allowed to snuff out new ideas before they mature, then there will be no new players. No innovation. No new jobs. No competitive advantage.

2)    A copyright regime that enables the distribution of ideas and the creation of new culture.

Here I am in Stratford, Ontario, home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the biggest open source festivals in the country. Every year the city celebrates plays that, because they are in the public domain, can be remixed, re-interpreted, and used without anyone’s permission to create new derivative cultural works (as well as bring joy and economic prosperity to untold people). A copyright regime that overly impedes the connectivity of works to one another (no fair use!) or the connectivity of people to ideas is one that will limit innovation in Canada.

A networked economy is not just one that connects people to a network. That is a broadcast economy. A networked economy is one that allows people to connect works together to create new works. Copyright should protect creators of content, but it should do so to benefit the creators, not support vast industries that market, sell, and repackage these works long after the original creator is dead. As Lawrence Lessig so eloquently put it:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

A networked economy limits the past to enable the future.

3)    A government that uses a networked approach to creating a strategy for a connected economy.

An agrarian economy was managed using papyrus, an industrial economy was managed via printing press, typewriters and carbon copy paper. A digital economy strategy and managing policies were created on Microsoft Word and with email. A Network Economy can and only will be successfully managed and regulated when those trying to regulate it stop using siloed, industrial modes of production, and instead start thinking and organizing like a network. Not to ring an old bell, but today, that means drafting the policy, from beginning to end, on GCPEDIA, the only platform where federal public servants can actually organize in a network.

Managing an industrial economy would have been impossible using hand written papyrus, not just because the tools could not have handled the volume and complexity of the work but because the underlying forms of thinking and organizing that are shaped by that tool are so different from how an industrial economy works.

I’m going to predict it right now. Until a digital economy strategy is drafted using online but internally-connected tools like wikis, it will fail. I say this not because the people working on it will not be intelligent, but because they won’t be thinking in a connected way. It will be like horse and buggy users trying to devise what a policy framework for cars should look like. It will suck and terrible, terrible decisions will be made.

In summary, these are the three things I think the federal government needs to be focused on if we are going to create a digital economy strategy that positions us to be leaders by 2017. This is the infrastructure that needs to be in place to ensure that we maximize our capacity to connect each other and our work and reap the benefits of that network.

The Future of Media in Canada – Thoughts for the Canadian Parliamentary Committee

Yesterday, Google presented to a House of Commons Heritage Committee which has launched a study of “new media.” Already some disturbing squawks have been heard from some of the MPs. For those who believe in an open internet, and in an individuals right to choose, there is no need to be alarmed just yet, but this is definitely worth keeping an eye on. It is however, a good thing that the parliamentary committee is looking at this (finally) since the landscape has radically changed and the Canadian government needs to adjust.

In his SXSWi talk Clay Shirky talked about how abundance changes things. One an item ceases to be scarce – when it is freely available – the dynamics of what we do with it and how we use it radically change.

It is something government’s have a hard time wrestling with. One basic assumption that often (but hardly always) underlies public policy is that one is dealing with how to manage scarce resources like natural resources. But what happens when something that was previously scarce suddenly becomes abundant? The system breaks. This is the central challenge the Heritage Committee MPs need to wrap their heads around.


Because this is precisely what is happening with the broadcast industry generally and Canadian content rules specifically. And it explains why Canadian content rules are so deeply, deeply broken.

In the old era the Government policy on Canadian content rested on two pillars:

First, the CRTC was able to create scarcity. It controlled the spectrum and could regulate the number of channels. This meant that broadcasters had to do what it said if they wanted to maintain the right to broadcast. This allowed the CRTC to mandate that a certain percentage of content be Canadian (CanCon).

The second pillar was funding. The Government could fund projects that would foster Canadian content. Hence the CBC, the National Film Board of Canada and various other granting bodies.

The problem is, in the digital era, creating scarcity gets a lot more complicated. There are no channels to regulate on the internet. There is just the abundant infinity of internet content. Moreover you can’t force websites to produce or create Canadian content nor can you force Canadians to go to websites that do (at least god hopes that isn’t a crazy idea the committee gets into its head). The scarcity is gone. The Government can no longer compel Canadians to watch Canadian content.

So what does that mean? There are three implications in my mind.

First. Stop telling Canadians what culture is. The most offensive quote from yesterday’s Globe article was, to quote the piece Bloc Québécois MP Carole Lavallée quote:

Bloc Québécois MP Carole Lavallée highlighted the often low-brow, low-budget fare on YouTube. She accused Google of confusing leisure with culture.

“Leisure is people who play Star Wars in their basement and film one another and put that on YouTube,” she said. “ But culture is something else.”

Effectively, she is telling me – the blog and new media writer – and the 100,000s if not millions of other Canadians who have created something that they do not create Canadian culture. Really? I thought the whole point of the Heritage Ministry, and tools like the CBC was to give voice to Canadians. The internet, a tools like YouTube have done more on that front than any Government program of the last 5 decades. Lavallée may not like what she sees, but today, more Canadian content is created and watched around the world, than ever before.

Second. Be prepared to phase out the CRTC. The CRTC’s regulatory capacity depends on being able to create scarcity. If there is no more scarcity, then it seizes to have a lever. Yes, the TV industry is still with us. But for how long? Canadians, like people everywhere, want to watch what they want, when they want. Thanks to the internet, increasingly they can. The CRTC no longer serves the interests of Canadians, it serves to perpetuate both the broadcast industry and the cable industry (yes, even when they fight) by creating a legal scaffolding that props up their business models. Michael Geist understands this – the committee should definitely be talking to him as well.

Third, if the first pillar is dead, the second pillar is going to have to take on a heavier load and in new and creative ways. The recent National Film Board iPhone app is fantastic example of how new media can be used to promote Canadian content. If the Commons committee is really worried about YouTube, why not have Heritage Canada create a “Canadian channel” on YouTube where it can post the best videos by Canadians and about Canada? Maybe it can even offer grants to the video creaters that get the most views on the channel – clearly they’ve demonstrated an ability to attract an audience. Thinking about more micro-grants that will allow communities to create their own content is another possibility. Ultimately, the Government can’t shape demand, or control the vehicle by which supply is delivered. But it can help encourage more supply – or better still reward Canadians who do well online and enable them to create more ambitious content.

The world of new media is significantly democratizing who can create content and what people can watch. Whatever the heritage committee does I hope they don’t try to put the cork back on that bottle. It will, in effect, be muzzling all the new emerging Canadian voices.

Update: Just saw that Sara Bannerman has a very good post about how Canadian content could be regulated online. Like much of what is in her post, but don’t think “regulation” is the right word. Indeed, most of what she asks for makes business sense – people will likely want Canadian filters for searching (be it for books, content, etc…) as long as those filters are optional.

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 Real-time Politician – It's about filters (and being unfiltered)

The other day Mathew Ingram, in response to articles about the president’s one year anniversary asked What Are the Implications of a Real-Time, Connected President? More specifically:

Is a real-time connected president more likely to think for himself and look outside the usual Washington circles for ideas or input, or is being connected just a giant distraction for someone who is supposed to be leading the nation?

The policy implications of a real-time, connected president could be interestingly different around say, copyright law, net-neutrality and a myrad of other modern issues a pre-internet president might not get.

But in response to Mathew’s specific question I think the connected president (or politician) has more ways to fail, but if they manage their filters correctly, could also be much, much smarter.

Let me explain why.

The entire infrastructure around a politician is about filtering. As odd as it may be for some readers to hear, politicians do almost nothing but work with information. Indeed, they are overwhelmed with the stuff. Theirs is among the first jobs to deal with the noise to signal problem. (How do you distinguish important information – signal – from unimportant information – noise). Ever notice when you talk to many politicians (particularly ones you don’t know), they listen but aren’t really absorbing what you say – it is because they have people telling them “what matters” about 9-14 hours out of every day. And each issue they get approached about is “the most important.”

Moreover, most politicians have marginal influence at best (even the president can only change so much, particularly without Congress’s help). So that glazed look… it’s not that they don’t care, they are just overwhelmed and don’t know how to prioritize you.

To deal with all this information (not to mention, for politicians like the President, all the decisions), politicians have evolved filters. These filters are staffers. This is why, in many instances, advisers are so deeply powerful – the elected officials they serve are often completely dependent on them to filter out all the noise (irrelevant information) and feed them the factual and political information they need to know (the relevant information) and not much else (like, say, context). A good constituency office staffer knows who in the riding absolutely needs to be called versus who is the time-suck that would never vote for you anyway.  A good policy adviser can provide a briefing note that filters out the misinformation and presents the core message or choice the politician must communicate or make.

Previous new communication technology either didn’t disrupt this filter mechanism because they were purely broadcast (think radio or television), or had limited effect because they only widened circle of people the politician could consult in a narrow fashion (telephone or telegraph). The internet however does two things. One, it allows you to communicate, in an unfiltered manner, with millions of people, who can in turn communicate back to you. Second, it allows one to access a vast swath of information – much of which is itself already filtered.

The implication of the first shift has been widely talked about. I think politicians are still grappling with this opportunity, but Facebook, Twitter, even email all allow politicians to access their supporters and constituents in interesting ways. They also allow constituents to easily self-organize to give you feedback, be it positive or, (as Obama experienced when his own supporters organized on my.barackobama.com in protest to his vote in favour of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) “corrective.” In this regard, politicians are going to need a whole new set of filters – ones that are able to identify which 2,000 person facebook group might swell into a 220,000 person group in 3 weeks.

But the really interesting shift is in the relationship between politicians and their advisers. And here we’ve already seen that shift.

The fact is that most technologies have allowed politicians – particularly those with executive authority – to further centralize that authority. The telegraph, and then telephone allowed politicians to have more direct contact with more people. This gave them the opportunity to micromanage their affairs rather than delegate to officials (think Nixon with the telephone and the details he would get into or the ever centralizing authority of the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office since Trudeau).

For the networked politicians the temptation to reach out and micromanage a greater array of staffers – or even to be consulted directly on a greater number of smaller decisions – is enormous. At some point, in a networked world the flow of information, the quantity of decisions, and the number of relationships will simply become overwhelming.This is how these technologies can cause filter breakdown and ultimately paralyze the decision making process (a problem Canada’s present Prime Minister has wrestled with).

And this is why the situation will be so interesting. A networked world increases the power of both the politician and their advisers. As connected politicians have to deal with so much more information the need for filters, and thus the role of advisers, actually becomes more important. At the same time however, the President’s capacity to go around their filters – to access the opinions of outsiders, particularly those who have been filtered by the masses as being credible – also increases. So, in some ways politicians are more autonomous: less dependent on, or more able to challenge, their advisers. (This is somewhat the picture being painted in the Washington Post article about Obama.)

My sense is that the networked politician has a difficult time in front of them. Finding the right balance between trusting one’s advisers, managing decisions at the appropriate level and knowing when to listen to outsiders will require more discipline than ever before. Networks and modern communication technology make the ability (and temptation) to do too much of any of these much, much easier.

On the flip side however, if a politician can stay disciplined, they may be able to demand better work from their advisers and engage in a greater swath of issues effectively.

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).