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May 24, 2012

[mesh] Michael Geist on the emergence of the Internet constituency

Michael Geist (@mgeist), a Canadian hero, is giving at talk at Mesh.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

When SOPA was introduced, it seemed likely to pass. Bipartistan love fest. But then the Internet fought back, from the Free Bieber campaign to online petitions. The number one source of info about SOPA was not the NYT or the Washington Post but a TechDirt blog post. (As an aside, someone launched a take down notice of this blog post, so it didn’t even appear in he Google search engine for a month.) The Reddit community was very active. E.g., when GoDaddy was listed as a supporter of SOPA, Reddit started a campaign to transfer domains from there. GoDaddy changed its mind. The big moment was when Wikipedia blacked out its English-language home page. That page was accessed 162M times that day — a striking ability to raise awareness. Other sites blacked out as well. The effect was dramatic: Within a day Congressional support swung.

For months people have been trying to figure out the “SOPA Story.” How did the number one legislative effort from the number one lobby go down in flames?

In Canada we can go back to Sam Bulte. The rise of groups lobbying for rights. The rise of social networks. The use of social media by rights-favoring politicians. So, in a sense, SOPA is nothing new here in Canada.

Blackouts aren’t new either: 1996 “computer decency act” protest. NewZealand’s protest. Italian-language Wikipedia blacked out last year.

So, in some ways the SOPA Story was nothing new. What’s new is what’s happening after SOPA…the enabling coming to people who think they now can truly affect what happens online. E.g., ACTA protests in Europe. Polish MPs donning Guy Fawkes masks. The dominoes have started to fall against ACTA. Now Neelie Kroes has said that ACTA is all but dead.

Likewise, the Research Works Act tried to scale back access to publicly-funded research. The Net fought back, withdrawing support from Elsevier, the key lobbyist for the RWA. Elsevier has withdrawn support for RWA and there is a petition now to go the other way. [SIGN THE PETITION]

In Canada, Proecting Children from Internet Predators Act — a 100-age bill that contains the word “children” only in its title. The Internet fought back. E.g., TellVic. It has been withdrawn, although temporarily.

The Net is spreading word. E.g., Kony 2012 spread around the world. There’s debate about whether it has had any effect, but the UN from people on the ground is that it has made a difference. Likewise, Trayvon Martin’s story was told through social media. Or, now, the Quebec student initiatives that started with just a few people but has grown because of social media.

LEssons: Don’t underestimate the power of social media to bring prople together to have a voice on issues. Second, SOPA happened only 18 months. We’re seeing a dramatic shift. The full consequences have not yet played out.

The third lesson is pessimistic. If this is the year that the Internet fought back, the battle may have been won but the fight continues. E.g., CETA, Trans Pacific Partnership (copyright tyranny), etc. There are reasons for optimism, but we have a long struggle ahead.
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Q: How long are we going to have to keep fighting our governments? When do we stop having to argue that social interests take priority over business interests?

A: E.g., this week public pressure worked on an act that had been given to the telcos for prior consultation. E.g., look at how the copyright bill has changed: changes to fair dealing, cap on statutory damages, consumer exceptions, etc. None of that was there originally. More politicians get it. But the content industries are powerful. The Internet is becoming an increasingly powerful voice.

Q: ICANN works on a multistakeholder model and has a limited mandate about setting policy. Some want to relegate that authority to the UN that runs it as a think tank. Which way is better?

A: The ITU has been pushing for governance space for then years. At ICANN some stakeholders count more than others. If the UN does it, repressive countries get the keys to the Net. I don’t see the ITU play happening.

Q: With SOPA there was a lot of groupthink. It lacked subtlety and nuance.

A: We’ve had 30 years of lobbying by rights holders with a total lack of nuance: “It’s theft. It’s piracy. Shut it down.” Not reflective of what’s actually happening. So, yes, some are slackivists just clicking on a Like button. But they are more informed than the general populace on these issues. I did a talk for 8th grade students, and almost all of them had heard of SOPA and Kony, and most knew more about Kony than they knew before March of this year.

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March 17, 2011

New York Times uses Canada as beta for US

The email from the NYTimes about its new digital subscription service notes: “Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch.” [Also here]. Really? The entire nation of Canada is just a beta tester for the US and the rest of the world?

How do you find out what version number is Canada up to, anyway? Click on the maple leaf?

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June 16, 2010

Music industry rents a photogenic posse

BoingBoing points (via Michael Geist) to a music industry astroturf site that shows overly-happy, oddly attractive, and suspiciously diverse youths getting the maximum pleasure from cross-border DRM. We are urged to inject into our social networks our support and emotional attachment of the denizens of this fake network of non-existent corporate shills. With expected quickness, the commenters unearthed the stock photo the RIAA used.

It oddly reminds me of the “Send ‘em back” site that urged today’s youth to return the mp3s they’ve shared.

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December 5, 2009

Elliot Noss on Canadian lessons for US broadband strategy

Elliot Noss, of Tucows, draws some lessons from Canada’s experience for the US Broadband Initiative:

BTW, I count Elliot as a good friend. And more video interviews about our national broadband strategy at BroadbandStrategyWeek.com

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October 19, 2009

First comprehensive global study of broadband says USA is kept behind by closed access policies

The Berkman Center’s study of broadband around the world finds pretty clear correlation between successful broadband access and openness. Here’s a bit of an interview with Yochai Benkler who headed up the study for the FCC:

I think there are two pieces of news that will be most salient for people as they look at this report. The first is a response to the question: “how are we doing?”, and the answer is that we’re overall middle-of-the-pack, no better. The second responds to the question: “what policies and practices worked for countries that have done well?”, and the answer to that is: there is good evidence to support the proposition that a family of policies called “open access,” that encourage competition, played an important role.

The report is now open for public comment.


Elliot Noss of Tucows — agreeing with the Benkler report — has posted about why the state of Canadian broadband is not nearly as healthy as a report from the incumbent providers would have us believe. He concludes: “I want, and there is no reason we cannot have, at least 100mbs full symmetrical bandwidth. It is a global competitive imperative. Telcos, Cablecos, I do not want your lousy bowl of 1.5mbps gruel. Please sir, may I have some more?”

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August 31, 2009

Copyright’s creative disincentive

Tucows is participating in the Canadian copyright consultation process. Rather than submitting a comment written in the usual lawyerly prose, Elliot Noss, Tucow’s CEO, asked me to write up something about copyright in my usual imprecise and incoherent prose. I like Elliot a lot, and I care about copyright, so I wrote about the argument that without strong copyright protection, creators won’t have an incentive to create. The piece is now posted… [The next day: I absolutely should have mentioned that this was a commissioned piece. I.e., Elliot paid me to write something, and posted it unaltered.]

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April 5, 2009

Deep Packet Inspection: The essays

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has published a set of solicited essays on the wisdom of using software that looks at the content of the data being sent over the Net, AKA deep packet inspection or DPI. The essays are from notables such as Susan Crawford , and Berkman’s Chris Soghoian and Max Weinstein. The essays overall condemn DPI as a general practice, on privacy and free speech grounds.

The page itself reads like something that comes not out of government but out of e-government.

[Later that day:] By the way, the Privacy Commissioner is the only federal government org in Canada with an outward facing blog. I can’t tell if that should be filed under Irony or Appropriate.[Tags: ]

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March 31, 2009

[f2c] Tim Denton

Tim Denton is commissioner of theCanadian Radio and Television Commission. They held a hearing recently on broadcasting in new media. Can Canadian content be measured when TV is delivered over the Net? Should they be taxing ISPs to create a fund that would go into Canadian programming? Many entertainers testified in favor of the tax. “Not a single group raised the issue of free speech across the Internet.” Tim can’t imagine this being the case in the US.” Tim can’t announce the CRTC’s decision…

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October 28, 2008

Linking to defamation is not defamation

A Canadian court has decided that linking to a defamatory page is not itself an act of defamation. It does leave admit exceptions, such as repeating the content of the defamatory passage or linking the phrase “The truth about Wayne Crookes is found here.”

The chilling effect if the court had decided otherwise would have been positively arctic.

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September 8, 2008

Canadian election gets down and redolent of loam

The tag line at the Canadian Conservative Party’s Web site, attacking the liberal candidate Stéphane Dion — as you know, the PM just called for an election — seems oddly 19th century:

“Canada cannot afford risky experiments at a time of uncertainty”

It’s as if Obama were to say, “My opponent’s steadiness of purpose is challenged by recent announcements seemingly at odds with this character,” or if McCain were to say, “To what end shall our nation proceed if driven by hands untested by trial?”

The Conservative site does feature “MyCampaign,” a “virtual campaign office,” that lets you write letters to editors, recruit friends, call talk radio, and engage in other acts of personal broadcasting. As far as I can see, there’s no actual social networking available.


The Liberal party site does some Ajax-y launch-on-hover things, and has a prominent link to Facebook where Dion has 12,000 supporters. The page was updated on Dec. 14, June 19, and Aug. 19. The Liberal’s YouTube page leads with a video of a slow clap for nature, posted two months ago.

The NDP’s Facebook page has 13,000 supporters and a campaign video uploaded yesterday, although the updates have been about monthly. And the NDP has been twittering. Well, to be exact, they’ve tweeted three times, but once was six minutes ago. They have 169 followers, but are following 151, creating an amazing following-to-follower relationship that they can only hope will not be sustainable in the long run.

(And, yes, although I’m being snarky about the Canadian Web sites’ campaign rhetoric, I do prefer it to America’s.) [Tags: ]

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