Unlocking Access: In support of a hands-on Internet Policy

Michael Geist
Professor Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.
He blogs on the net and IP. See also the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook Group.
[No paper on CD or the web just yet, so for now you’ll need to rely on my rough notes. It was a good keynote!]

Initially there was a push for governments to be hands-off, but they were never there. They always wanted to have a hand in regulating the net on at least a domestic level and in some international agreements. Canadians used the Australian anti-spam legislation as their model. (I didn’t know we had such a law – it certainly isn’t effective.) There always was a role for public policy and government.

Internet 2008.
The blogosphere (>100 million, but incl. some subject matter experts in some fields); power of social networks – Facebook/Myspace (eg. his group on Canada Fair Copyright had many thousands of members within a week or so indicating opposition to new legislation – now 40,000 members); podcasts’ role (he usually uses his iPhone to record talks and then podcasts the MP3 file – people don’t want to read, but will listen or even re-listen; wider audience); postsecret – posts secrets to the world in an artistic/creative way (within a veil of anonymity) – many sad, but now >250k and many in galleries and museums in US; online video sharing (eg. YouTube, Star Wreck – free download, incl English subtitles – people could download and still they bought DVD and were licensed for broadcast; elephants dream – open movie using free tools; public broadcasting (like our ABC); flickr & other photo sharing sites like Facebook (many using CC licenses); rise of creative commons (some rights reserved); free online publications (that can also be purchased, eg. In the Public Interest); collaborative internet growth (eg. Wikipedia.org – it doesn’t have a monopoly on making mistakes, but has a remarkable panel of expertise; EOL – encyclopedia of life); citizen journalism‘s rise (eg. OhmyNews – written by everyone); Project Gutenberg (public domain digitised books, like SPW); LibriVox (audio versions of books); educational content online like MIT OpenCourseWare (decade long time-frame finished within four years or four years early assisted by advances in technology and the rise of support for such initiatives); move towards Open Access, eg. PloS, the Public Library of Science – some people have gone on to win Nobel Prize from that online journal; see also Open Medicine); Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) – public domain material hosted for free, forever; digitisation projects like Google Books (whole and snippets), bringing books to life & Canada has a National Digitisation Strategy including photos freely available; Open Source software – browsers, web services, etc.
BoingBoing (originally a zine) has larger readership than any newspaper in Canada. Lots of concern re copyright in Canada, all starting from that Facebook group. Many others being used to voice opposition to public policies.

Internet 2018.
(Not a prediction, but public policies and potential.)

  1. Connectivity. Broadband for all (or you cannot participate – so there is a public sector policy role there); muni wifi; net neutrality (a notion of a two tiered internet – fast for the rich and slower for the rest – treating all content in an equal fashion); spam; spyware.
  2. Enhancing participation. Intermediary liability issues (eg. things posted on your blog by others & not taken down fast enough); domain names; privacy (still struggling with issues, eg. Facebook issues & their privacy settings – many don’t use, 70-80%); trust; transparency.
  3. Copyright. Anti-circumvention legislation; fair use (Canada has no exceptions like time shifting, three-step test, loss of gift if not used, etc.); term extension (70 years+?); orphaned works; WIPO (an agenda that has moved much further than anyone expected).
  4. Content. Open Access; digitisation; Crown copyright (could affect us – people asking for permission to copy the Copyright Act!; military denying screenshots of equipment if it thought it critical!); public broadcasting.

He finished by saying: “It isn’t about a hands-off approach, the future of the net is in our hands.”

I liked this good round-up of issues relevant to public policy and the net. It wasn’t too heavy and highlighted many possibly obscure and not obvious connections.
Responses to questions:
The interests of public institutions sometimes undermined by meeting the lowest common denominator and strategies limited to such baby steps that are so conservative and aimed mostly at not offending! Too many stakeholders in the room making decisions. They need to take a stronger line with what they are doing and use restrictions. Too much time spent telling people what to do, not what you can do.
Social networks may be skewed towards the younger demographics.
Expectations of privacy on things like Facebook – people are not expecting that everyone can see it. See Danah Boyd’s work regarding the reaction of youth to parents looking at their profiles. Some governments ban the use of Facebook by employees, but all of their potential hires are on Facebook. It needs a re-think about the content posted on Facebook.
He was against the introduction of filtering systems as they are highly problematic and of unknown length/application.

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