Prediction: Copyright reform a hot button

For the London Free Press

Read this on Canoe

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.

UK ISP explains its traffic shaping/net neutrality approach

Techdirt posts about how one UK ISP is very open about how and why it traffic shapes. One issue in the net neutrality debate (the fear that ISP’s will prioritize/degrade certain traffic based on their desire to promote certain services at the expense of others for their own gain) is that most ISP’s don’t disclose what they are doing. Of course that just fuels the debate, as it leads to suspicion they are hiding the fact they are doing things some would find offensive.

The post points out that Plusnet’s customer satisfaction ratings have been increasing.

So why are other ISP’s not doing the same?

And that goes for disclosing the actual download speeds once can get at home as well. We all know that the speed of hi-speed Internet can be substantially less than advertised depending on location and equipment – but as a recent Marketplace segment showed, the ISP’s are not eager to admit that a particular customer can’t get the speed they have paid for.

Read the Techdirt post

Look at the Maketplace report

Tim Berners-Lee interview on ITBusiness.ca

ITBusiness.ca has an interesting interview with Tim Berners-Lee, described as the inventor of the world wide web, and now director of the World Wide Web Consortium, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Just getting used to Web 2.0? Tim talks about the next step, described as the Semantic web. Essentially, it is about the integration of data accross different platforms and from different sources. Think of it as convergence of data.

He talks about the privacy implications of that. Also about the concept of provenance, meaning knowing where the data comes from and what it can be used for. That concept is important for reasons of accuracy, accountability, and intended use.

He also talks about his support for net neutrality, including a good example of its meaning.

It is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to understand where things might be headed.

Read the Interview

Network neutrality website

Michael Geist points to a new Canadian website dealing with net neutrality called What is Net Neutrality. Its worth a look for anyone interested in the issue. Since everyone uses the Internet, this issue impacts us all. The issue is also being raised for wireless services.

Network neutrality is essentially about whether ISP’s, or the owners of the pipes, can play with the traffic to prioritize some traffic at the expense of others. That’s not an issue if it improves the quality of the data, so long as it is not at the expense of another. Favouring one’s own VOIP service for example, while degrading 3rd party VOIP.

One of the simplest examples is on a comment to Michael’s post. That comment was credited to Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing. I tracked down the Boing Boing post – which attributes it to Craig Newmark of Craiglist.

The actual excerpt from Cory’s post is:

it would be like calling Joe’s Pizza and having the phone company tell you that since Joe hadn’t paid for “guaranteed connections” to you, that you’d have to wait three minutes before they’d put the call though (but you can talk to a Domino’s operator right now if you’d like!).

For earlier comments of mine on net neutrality, click on it in my tag cloud.

Read Michael’s post

Go to the What is Net Neutrality site

Read Cory’s post

Network Neutrality – a rational debate

ZDNet has a good article entitled A Rational Debate on Net Neutrality that is worth a read by anyone wanting to understand the underlying issues of the debate. The article talks about how the Internet works, its business model, how this issue started in the first place, and some of the attempts at legislation.

In essence, net neutrality (which I agree with) is the idea that an ISP should not selectively degrade service to give one service provider better service to the user than another, whether that service provider is the ISP itself or someone else.

For previous posts of mine on the subject, click on “Network Neutrality” in my tag cloud.

Read the ZDNet article

Net Neutrality and Rogers

Michael Geist’s latest article in the Toronto Star talks about Roger’s traffic shaping, the unintended problems it creates (it may be causing slowdowns in corporate VPN traffic), and how it fits into the net neutrality debate.

Michael’s blog post also refers to some other views on the subject by Matt Roberts and Mark Evans. All three of those articles are a good read for anyone interested in the net neutrality debate, or how ISP’s control web traffic.

In essence, net neutrality (which I agree with by the way) is the idea that an ISP should not selectively degrade service to give one service provider better service to the user than another, whether that service provider is the ISP itself or someone else.

For example, an ISP should not degrade Vonage or Skype VOIP calls and ensure that the ISP’s own VOIP service gets priority or quality. Or the ISP should not degrade the VOIP traffic of all VOIP providers except the one that pays them for preferential service.

Read Michael’s post and the other articles

Local phone de-regulation

Today’s press talks about the Canadian Federal government’s decision to require the CRTC to deregulate local phone service in areas where there are 3 alternate providers.

The phone companies are pleased. Some think this will be good for consumers as it may lead to more competition and reduced prices.

Critics are concerned that the existing telcos wil undercut the competition, so in the end we will be left with no competition and higher prices.

Only time will tell – it will be interesting to follow this as it unfolds.

My personal observations are that while the cable companies have phone service, they are not competing on price. When you add up the prices of similar service from the phone company and the cable company, they are remarkably close. Strikes me that the cable cos see the telcos as their competition, not the independent Voip providers.

So at the moment we seem to have similar priced, similar quality services from the telcos and cable cos, with pure Voip plays coming in much cheaper and more flexible, but often with call quality issues.

Which leads to the network neutrality issue. Will this mean that it becomes even more tempting for any ISP that offers broadband service (ie the telcos and cable cos) to tinker with the quality of third party Voip?

Read an ITBusiness.ca article about the announcement

Videotron calls for tariff on content providers

Videotron, a Quebec based ISP and cable TV operator, was quoted in newspaper articles yesterday as calling for a tariff on content providers such as Apple and Amazon. Videotron thinks the content providers are getting a free ride.

Michael Geist and Rob Hyndman were both quick to point out why that’s not a good idea. I encourage you to look at their comments.

My perspective is that it would be equally logical for content providers to try to charge Videotron for the priviledge of allowing Videotron customers to access their content. After all, without providers of content and services such as Apple, Amazon, Google, etc., Videotron would not have customers eager to buy their services.

Read Michael’s comments

Read Rob’s comments

FTC to look at Net Neutrality

Tech memeorandum points to a Federal Trade Commission news release that says the FTC has formed an Internet task force to: “examine issues being raised by converging technologies and regulatory developments, and to educate and inform the enforcement, advocacy and education initiatives of the Commission.” and “to address what is likely the most hotly debated issue in communications, so-called ‘network neutrality”

The FTC favours market forces instead of regulation, which in general is a good idea. The question is whether market forces can actually achieve network neutrality – I’m skeptical.

I’m convinced network neutrality , ie ISP’s not discriminating against traffic from others, especially competitors, is crucial.

Read the Tech memeorandum post

Read the FTC news release