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Multiple Voices on Canada’s Hearings on Science and Technology Policy

Multiple Voices on Canada’s Hearings on Science and Technology Policy

Canada has launched hearings for future policy on science and technology. Already, there are numerous voices on the matter including Michael Geist, CIPPIC, Tracey Lauriault, Russell McOrmand, the BCLA, and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

It seems that even officials were excited about the hearings.

“We are beginning today our study pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a study of Canadian science and technology. It’s very exciting. All members of the committee are looking forward to it,” chairman James Rajotte commented, “and I know that many Canadians across this country have written to me and to the clerk and are looking forward to this study.”

“[T]he overall objective of the S and T strategy” said Iain Stewart, Director General, Portfolio and Coordination Branch, Department of Industry, “is to build a national competitive advantage based on science and technology.”

“This committee is of course interested in tackling an issue that has not been treated,” Dan McTeague commented, “and we would like obviously to deal with the science and technology side of our mandate here as a committee.”

It seems that humor wasn’t lost on them either:

The Chair: I think, Mr. Dicerni, you would want to clarify your answer and say that Industry, of course, is the architectonic department of all departments.

I’m just kidding.

Mr. Richard Dicerni: No, sir, I would like for the record to note that we at the Department of Industry drink regularly from the fountain of humility, and it would be beyond our pay grade to assume this mandate.

Humor about drinking regularly aside, it seems that there are a number of responses to the hearings already. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic sent their comments (PDF) to the hearings. They chose to discuss these three topics:

  • access to scientific data
  • crown copyright
  • the dangers digital rights management technologies ��” and the laws that protect
    those technologies ��” pose to science research.

Here are some highlights from their submission:

Scientific data is the lifeblood of innovation. The Canadian government generates a huge volume of scientific data, both directly through the research activities of scientists employed by the government, and through its role funding the three federal research granting institutions. This data serves Canada best, generates innovation most, and advances knowledge most significantly, when it is openly accessible without restrictive licensing terms. Openly accessible data supports further research in both the public sector and private sector and allows for an efficient process for science to make its way from the lab into innovations that benefit Canadian researchers and businesses. This is not a controversial position: around the world, governments are making scientific data, generated through public funds, accessible to the public. The United States and the European Union, in particular, have moved rapidly over the past couple of years to improve access to publicly funded research. The Canadian government should follow suit, or risk undermining innovation and hampering the global competitiveness of Canadian businesses.

Crown copyright grants Her Majesty copyright in any work prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department. Crown copyright enables the practice of licensing access to data under onerous licensing terms that go beyond the terms of copyright to impose restrictions on use and distribution. Our submissions with respect to Crown copyright are closely related those with respect to open access: works authored at taxpayer expense best serve the public interest where the public is free to access, use, modify, and redistribute them without interference from the government.

Digital Rights Management technologies (“DRM”) employ technical measures to govern the means by which content may be accessed or used. Examples include regional coding, employed in DVDs to ensure that discs purchased in Europe cannot be played on devices in North America, and FairPlay, Apple’s DRM that ensure that music purchased from the Apple iTunes online store will only play on an Apple iPod. DRM is often justified as necessary to permit innovation in digital distribution models. However, in practice, DRM is seldom directed primarily towards content protection. More often, it has anticompetitive objects. In both the examples offered here, DRM has been employed not to prevent infringement of copyright, to restrict opportunities for downstream businesses in the interests of maximizing profits for the content distributor. Regional coding does not prohibit reproduction ��” it prohibits use of legal content in a given region so that distributors may engage in price discrimination. Similarly, Apple’s FairPlay is primarily directed at preventing consumers from enjoying music they’ve purchased from iTunes on a digital device manufactured by a competitor.

Professor Ed Felten, of Princeton University, has spoken of the effect the American Digital Millennium Copyright Law has had on his own research activities. In a submission to the Copyright Office requesting an exemption from liability under the DMCA for researching spyware (reproduced at http://www.freedom-totinker. com/doc/2005/dmcacomment.pdf), […] As the Committee is no doubt aware, the Canadian government is deliberating about whether to legislate anti-circumvention laws in Canada. Should the government elect to do so, such laws should carve out a comprehensive exception to liability for security researchers. CIPPIC calls on the Committee to endorse this position, and signal to the Canadian government the importance of this community to Canada.

Russell McOrmond, an open source consultant among other things whom we interviewed a while back also had comments for the process as well (PDF) Here are some of the highlights from him:

In any technological or economic change there are innovators who benefit from the change, and incumbents who are replaced by competitors. Incumbents in this area include some of the most visible lobbiests of the Canadian government and parliament. It needs to be understood that these incumbents are seeking to protect themselves against competition from innovators, and are not protecting innovation as they often claim.

North America has a problem in that the companies most often offering “Internet” access services are incumbents from the legacy network configuration (smart networks, dumb terminals) such as phone (telecom) and cable (broadcast undertakings) companies. These companies are in a direct conflict of interests as they are from sectors that least want the end-to-end Internet to exist, and are often trying to transform the existing end-to-end infrastructure to legacy configurations and billing methods. This topic sometimes comes under the title of “Net Neutrality”, and there is considerable misinformation spread by the incumbents.

In the software sector, the fastest growing component are companies producing and/or using Free/Libre and Open Source Software. Some of the largest companies such as Google were built on top of this software, and companies from IBM to Novel, Redhat, Ubuntu and others exist primarily as commercial support and enhancement suppliers for this publicly licensed peer produced software. I am a self employed entrepreneur that specializes in support and enhancements of this type of software.

Conflicts between competition policy and Intellectual Property can be seen in current cases in Europe against Microsoft. The effects they are observing with Microsoft are simply cases of abuse of exclusive rights. Their remedies have not been productive as demanding Microsoft publish documentation for their interfaces is not sufficient if their major competitors are not able to implement these interfaces without violating patents. Microsoft often confuses policy makers by releasing their patents under RAND terms, which is sufficient for businesses using similar business models, but excludes their major competitors which are using Free/Libre and Open Source Software licensing and are not able to use RAND licensed methods.

Along with these comments is comments made by internet law professor Michael Geist. Highlights:

I understand that the Committee does not intend for this study to include a detailed examination of Canada’s copyright legislation. However, a study that includes analysis of commercialization, venture capital, and the role of intellectual property, should recognize the importance of fair dealing reform and the danger of over-broad anti-circumvention legislation.

The failure to introduce greater flexibility within the fair dealing framework has hampered Canadian innovation and left Canada trailing a growing number of competitors, such as the U.S., which established a broad fair use provision decades ago. In recent years, a growing list of countries that includes the Philippines and Israel have modeled their copyright exceptions provisions after the U.S. fair use approach.

Forthcoming copyright reform is likely to address the issue of anti-circumvention legislation. This Committee should recommend that any reforms do not harm scientific research and the opportunities for commercialization. The dangers associated with anti-circumvention legislation to scientific research arises from the potential to either “lock up” or limit access to content that is otherwise not subject to copyright protection. Professor Dan Burk of the University of California-Irvine notes that a work subject to anti-circumvention legislation might include copyrightable content mixed with uncopyrightable content (such as facts). If both types of content are placed under the control of a technological protection measure, an attempt to extract the unprotectable content from a copyrighted work by circumventing the TPM would result in an infringement under the Act. In a scientific context, the effect would be to limit access to facts that are otherwise not subject to copyright protection.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters had a few comments of their own (PDF). Some highlights:

Evolving technologies have led to significant changes in radio station operations in recent years. In the past, radio stations would play music to air directly from records, tapes and compact discs. Over time, as the use of computer servers became increasingly pervasive in many industries including broadcasting, radio stations started transferring music from sources such as compact discs onto their servers in order to broadcast it. The first copyright claims were made in this environment. More recently, the use of digital file transfer technologies to deliver music content to radio stations has increased to the point where most radio stations now obtain most of their music via an online service.

Rightsholders’ claims for the reproduction right have increased in amount and in number as the technology has evolved. They have even increased in scope ��” one rightsholder group has gone so far as to claim payment from stations for copies made by third parties unconnected with the stations, for delivery of music to them.

We therefore respectfully make the following recommendation for the Committee’s consideration:

THAT the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recommend to the Government of Canada that sections 30.8 and 30.9 of the Copyright Act be amended to provide the real exceptions promised to the Canadian broadcast industry since the 1980s.

Also submitting comments is Tracey P. Lauriault. Her biography contains the following:

Ms. Lauriault is a Doctoral student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University and is a Canadian Graduate Scholar. She is part of the Project Management Team for the Cybercartography and the New Economy Project and is responsible for collaboration, transdisciplinary research and organizational theory. She is lead researcher of the Cybercartographic Atlas of Antarctica Case Study for the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems (InterPARES) and leads the General Study of Archival Policies of Science Data Archives/Repositories.

Here are some highlights from her submission:

The creation of a Society, Science and Technology Foundation for Canada analogous to the US National Science Foundation (NSF).
Rational: Currently in Canada we have NSERC whose focus is to fund research related to the creation of science and engineering products but does not provide S&T research direction. There is SSHRC which funds social science research but rarely funds research that is at the intersection of science, technology and society. The SSHRC now expired Innovation on the New Economy thrust was the exception. There is the National Research Council (NRC) which does Canadian science, and there is Natural Resources Canada which pursues the issue driven science of the ‘New’ government, Environment Canada and Health Canada and a number of regulatory organizations who do science, but there is no institution that investigates big science issues in Canada, that can bring cross disciplinary teams of scientists together on important issues, that can call upon the government agencies that do science to collaborate on specific projects or that can bridge private, academic, government and civil society expertise on particular science and technology directions. There are also some quasi independent organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) but it does not do research. And there are a few provincial R&D institutions however none of these are coordinated at a national scale. Canada does not have an organization for non science and technology producing agencies to defer to if assistance is required on big national scale technology projects, and so these rely and fund large consulting firm to direct technology projects instead ��”this is not a good scenario but it is a typical one. The NSF in the US has the resources and authority to mobilize scientists, specialists, engineers and experts on myriad critical science issues and to fund big and small projects alike, it could benefit from more public consultation processes as discussed above.

Formulation of national policy on free and open access to public natural, physical and social scientific data and research data.
Rational: Currently the government of Canada has a monopoly on publicly funded social, science and technological data. The public funds scientific research which collects data, the government also collects and maintains public data for governance purposes (e.g. Census, social surveys, geomatics data, land parcels data, education, agriculture data, environmental monitoring data, climate data, elections data, environmental data, genetic data, contaminated site data, health data, transportation data, hydrographic data, manufacturing data, nanotechnology data, data on fisheries, mapping data at myriad scales, data on recycling, etc.). SSHRC has a policy on making research data accessible but has neither incentive structures in place nor an infrastructure to make their publicly funded research results and their associated data accessible to the public. It is the same for ENSERC. There is no National mandate, policy or mechanism ��” as in infrastructure ��” in Canada to make public data freely – as in no cost – and easily accessible – as in useable – to the public. There is a Byzantine cost recovery policy rigidly adhered to by Statistics Canada and other government agencies, and restrictive use licenses which impede citizen’s access and use of these data. This is odd since citizens by law must provide these data yet are subsequently asked to pay for them a second time over and above taxation!

Creation of a national digital data infrastructure to discover, disseminate, and archive Canada’s social, physical and natural scientific data assets and research.
Rational: As discussed access to data and scientific research results are impeded due to cost recovery and restrictive use licensing regimes, but also because there is no technological infrastructure in place to make these accessible. Further, there are no means to make these available to future generations. There are currently some excellent discipline specific programs in place such as the GeoConnections program, there have been ongoing consultations on the preservation of Canada’s Scientific Data, and there is in circulation a draft that primarily focuses on cultural content regarding a national digital information strategy however, there is no organization that is responsible for the development and creation of a Canadian Digital Scientific Data and Information Infrastructure. The NSF funded and fueled Cyberinfratructure project is an example. Canada requires a multidisplinary institution with authority and resources, a working group or a NSF like organization or a cross federal departmental entity like GeoConnections that can be tasked with the creation and maintenance of such an Infrastructure. This would include policies, technologies, programs, institutions and standards – the key elements of any infrastructure – developed and designed with specialist and non-specialist audiences in mind and in consultation with the public. It would be a one stop location to discover, store, retrieve, archive, and disseminate Canada’s data assets and research outcomes. It would be easy to use, it would have tools to render these data, and it would have the means to access and retrieve studies, reports and data. It would be a repository and an archive and it would be freely accessible to the public. With our current technological expertise in Canada these high level specifications are easy to achieve.

Support access to spectrum and the ability of municipalities and community groups to develop local non commercial wireless community communication infrastructures.
Across Canada numerous community wireless networks (CWNs) or infrastructures (CWIs) have sprouted in the past 4-5 years. The largest and most influential is Ile Sans Fil in Montreal, but other community initiatives of note are the Fred-E Zone, Wireless Toronto, Alliance Communauté Sans fill which brings together approximately 20 Québec and Outaouais CWNs, BC Wireless, and K-Net. CWNs are citizen led non profit volunteer organizations which aim to make wireless Internet accessible in their communities, particularly in areas where the market has been slow to provide such services or where people choose a different delivery and access model. These groups are small and local and are not well represented or considered in CRTC negations on spectrum allocation and are not necessarily supported or acknowledged by large private sector Telcos. CWNs are however very innovative and entrepreneurial entities that volunteer their S&T expertise to their communities. I hope that Canada can make some space for and think of these types of small but not insignificant organizations when implementing S&T policies. CWNs have many contributions to make in the shaping of telecommunications in Canada, research and decision making processes on community based technologies. Research in this area has been conducted by the Community Wireless Infrastructure Research Infrastructure Project and the Canadian Research Alliance for Community Innovation and Networking (CRACIN).

There is currently no word yet on any more submissions.

Information about the submission process can be found through the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology press release which states:

Science, research and development underpin Canada’s position in the knowledge economy, where strength depends on capacity to innovate and stay ahead of the technological curve. Canadian government policies have aimed to foster world-class research programs in universities and research institutes and to encourage business investment in research and development. The 2007 science strategy “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, reiterates these goals.

The Committee believes that it is important to hear from Canadians on this topic. Its aim is to hear witnesses representing a variety of sectors and regions in Canada. The Committee will also be accepting briefs on this topic from groups and individuals who will not have the opportunity to appear before the Committee.

The committee is looking for themes that go along the lines of the following:

  • Science advice to government
  • Commercialization, venture capital and intellectual property
  • Federally funded research performed in government and higher education
  • “Big science” projects and Canada’s position in global science and technology

The press release unfortunately notes that the deadline was April 18. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how the process shapes up.

Jorge A. Gonzalez
Founder of ZeroPaid.com and various other websites. Follow me on your favorite social network. Twitter | Google Plus


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