For the London Free Press
For this first column of 2008, I will hazard some predictions for the coming year.
The upcoming copyright reform bill will cause some heated debates. Expectations are that the bill will include reforms desired by entertainment industry lobby groups. That’s despite those types of laws proving to be ineffective in the U.S, and having a chilling effect on innovation.
The Supreme Court of Canada promotes a balanced approach to copyright that protects creator rights, but also looks at user rights and expectations. Recent studies show that music downloading may actually increase music sales. Ironically, the very reforms the powerful entertainment industry lobbies desire are probably not in their best interests.
The bill was expected to be introduced in December but was delayed following a groundswell of opposition, including a Facebook group against the bill that generated 20,000 members in its first two weeks.
On the privacy front, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) went through an extensive review process in 2007. It does not look like amendments will happen in the short term. That will disappoint those who want to make public notice of the loss of personal information mandatory.
Unfortunately, we will continue to see data security breaches for reasons ranging from lax governance and security measures to apathy and a fundamental lack of understanding by individuals of the ramifications of their actions.
Virtual worlds such as Second Life — where people join an online world with their own avatar or persona — will lead to more real world lawsuits and controversy as we struggle with how real world laws should apply to the virtual world. While this may seem bizarre, people invest real time and money in the virtual world. Rights to virtual property are no less important to many in the virtual world than in the real world.
There will be more debate as to what extent real world laws should apply to things done in virtual worlds that are not allowed in the real world. No one would suggest, for example, that one should face real-world repercussions for virtual world traffic offences. The debate will more likely be framed around offences regarding the exploitation of, or inappropriate behaviour toward, children.
The debates will also consider the responsibility those creating the virtual worlds have towards unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour. Who gets to decide what is unacceptable or inappropriate? Should the creator of the virtual world have a responsibility to control that? If they take actions to control that, are they subject to repercussions from those they control?
The network neutrality debate will continue, but probably not be resolved. Net neutrality deals with the ability of Internet service providers to control traffic in ways that might, for example, downgrade the performance of competing VOIP products compared to their own. Internet service providers tend to talk about the need for network efficiency, but downplay the tough questions about competing services and payments for prioritized traffic.
This is another one of those user versus provider/creator debates that tends to get mired in rhetoric, making it difficult to get to a principled solution.