Great. Thank you, Chair.
Good morning. As you heard, my name's Michael Geist. I'm a law professor at the University of Ottawa, where I hold the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. I'm also a columnist on law and technology issues for the Toronto Star and the Ottawa Citizen. I was a member of the national task force on spam; I was on the board of directors for many years for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, CIRA, which governs the dot-ca domain name; and I sit on the Privacy Commissioner of Canada's expert advisory board, but I appear before this committee today in a personal capacity and represent only my own views.
The committee posed several questions, but I think two capture the essence of the issue. First, how have developments in digital media changed the new media environment? Second, what can government do? I'd like to try to take a stab at least at opening some discussion on both.
First, how have things changed? As we move from a world that was largely characterized as one of scarcity to one of abundance, I think we're seeing Canadians play an important role. Record labels like Nettwerk Records in British Columbia or Arts&Crafts in Toronto are at the forefront of using the Internet to promote their artists and benefit from its great potential. Notwithstanding some doom and gloom, the Canadian digital music market has grown faster than the U.S. market each of the past four years. In fact, we rank seventh worldwide for digital music sales, which is virtually identical to our sixth-place ranking for offline music sales.
The Canadian entertainment software industry is growing at a breathtaking pace, with regular investments in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. It's not legal frameworks that are dictating the investments but rather Canadian talent, creativity, and marketplace success. Smaller players are finding success in new markets as well, like iPhone and Facebook applications. The Canadian television network The Score is a North American leader for its online application. Companies like Polar Mobile now supply applications for the iPhone to a global market.
Canadians also play a key role in new book models. For example, Wikitravel is one of the Internet's most acclaimed travel sites. It was launched in 2003 by two Montreal residents, Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins. They used the same Wiki collaborative technology that's proven so successful for Wikipedia, inviting travellers to post their comments and experiences about places around the world in an effort to create a community-generated travel guide. The site has accumulated more than 30,000 travel guides in 18 different languages, with 10,000 editorial contributions each week. Content is licensed under a creative commons licence that allows the public to use it, copy it, edit it, and freely work with it. Building on that success, they've established Wikitravel Press. It represents a new approach to the travel book publishing business based on Internet collaborative tools and print-on-demand technologies.
Now, the compelling stories aren't limited just to new entrants. Consider the National Film Board of Canada. I don't expect the NFB to replace YouTube in the minds of many when it comes to Internet video, but a series of innovations has highlighted the benefits of open distribution and the potential for Canadian content to reach a global audience. Last year, just months before the NFB celebrated its 70th anniversary, it launched the NFB Screening Room, an online portal designed to make its films more readily accessible to Canadians and interested viewers around the world. To meet its objective it committed to being as open, transparent, and accessible as possible, including making the films freely available and embeddable on third-party websites.
In January 2009, just over a year ago, it started with 500 films. Today that number has nearly tripled, with almost 1,500 films, clips, and trailers, and the growing selection has been accompanied by a massive increase in audience. There have been 3.7 million online film views just in that first year alone: 2.2 million from Canada and another 1.5 million from the rest of the world. That's set to grow as the daily views, just in January, were 20,000 Canadian films by the NFB. That's per day.
The site also uses mobile technology to increase public access. In October of last year, just a few months ago, it launched an iPhone application that was downloaded more than 170,000 times and led to more than half a million views on the ubiquitous mobile device.
Similarly, the CBC has experimented with new distribution models. In 2008 it released a high-resolution version of the program Canada's Next Great Prime Minister without any copy protection on BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer protocol that's often linked with unauthorized file sharing. The public was able to download, copy, and share the program without any restrictions.
The use of BitTorrent may come as a surprise to some who mistakenly equate file sharing solely with infringing activities. BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer technologies are finding increasing favour with legitimate businesses attracted to its ability to distribute content in an efficient, cost-effective fashion. It has become particularly important for Canadian independent filmmakers and creators, who see it as a cheaper way to distribute their work.
In fact, the CBC's model was inspired by what the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation had done. It had earlier used BitTorrent to distribute Nordkalotten 365, one of that country's most popular programs. It proved successful, with tens of thousands of downloads at virtually no cost to the broadcaster.
These are a tiny fraction of the success stories we see today. We could canvass sector by sector to see how the Internet is proving enormously valuable to creators, consumers, and producers. But I want to turn to the question of what the Canadian government should be doing. I point to five issues as a starting point for discussion.
The first is Canadian networks. Canadian telecommunications networks were once the envy of the world. That's no longer, as we now rank far from the top in virtually every international ranking. Ensuring that Canadians have access to high-speed networks that rival current leaders like Japan and South Korea should be a top priority. I acknowledge that this is often perceived as an industry issue, but there is a critical heritage dimension here. We need to recognize that policies on high-speed networks and competitive wireless pricing are directly linked to new media success, since they are key distribution systems of Canadian digital content. This involves addressing several issues.
We need universal access so that all Canadians can access this new media.
We need to promote investment in fast fibre-to-the-home services so that Internet-based distribution models can take hold and remove the bottleneck that sometimes arises from either limited screen space or limited channel availability that has hampered some Canadian creators in the past.
Assist Canadians to become part of the creative and participative process. Many of us recognize that the line between creators and users is increasingly blurred today, and we need networks that facilitate both participation as well as consumption.
Finally, we need to ensure that we enforce network rules of the road, including net neutrality and traffic management guidelines, so that all content is afforded an equal opportunity and doesn't fall victim to limited access based on the kind of content or the program used to distribute it.
The next issue is digitization. I think there are few issues more central to new media policy than digitization. Most countries have recognized the need to ensure that national content is both preserved for future generations and made more readily accessible to the public. But in Canada, plans have languished to the point that it feels as if someone has hit the delete key on the prospect of a comprehensive Canadian digital library.
Our failure to keep pace has become readily apparent in recent years. Just by contrast, in September 2005 the European Union launched i2010, a digitization action plan. Several years later Europeana debuted—a website that provides direct access to more than 4.6 million digitized books, newspapers, film clips, maps, photographs, and documents from across Europe. The plan is to host 10 million of these objects by the end of this year.
By comparison, Canada is still largely stuck at the digitization starting gate. Library and Archives Canada was given responsibility for the issue, but was unable to muster the necessary support for a comprehensive plan. The Department of Canadian Heritage would seem to be a natural fit for a strategy designed to foster access to Canadian works. It has funded a handful of small digitization efforts, but has shown little interest in crafting a vision similar to what we see in Europe with Europeana.
The next issue is government as a model user. In recent years many countries have embraced open data initiatives, including both the United States and the U.K. Others, such as Australia, have adopted open licences to make sure that government content is more readily usable and accessible. We have started to see some of those same things in Canada at the municipal level. Cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto are leading the way.
Open government data is consistent with government transparency goals, and holds great economic potential by inviting Canadian businesses to add value to public data. Canadian policy should encompass principles such as open government data, the removal of crown copyright, and more open licences for government data, including things like government video, as well as a commitment to at least equal opportunities for procurement around open-source software. We should be, as a federal government, much like we see at the municipal level, talking about open data, open standards, and open-source software.
Fourth is cultural policy. Canadian cultural policy has long focused on the creation and promotion of Canadian culture. The government has already begun to shift much of its support toward new media and digital platforms. As we move from a world of scarcity, with limited bandwidth and difficulties in accessing culture, to one of abundance, where there is nearly unlimited access to culture, Canadian policies must shift as well from what I think are increasingly unworkable regulations that limit access to foreign content, toward efforts that back the creation and promotion of Canadian content.
In many ways, cultural policy is more relevant than ever. What we have to do is ensure that it becomes relevant by being effective in the current environment. In fact, with a new spectrum auction planned within the next couple of years, I think strong consideration should be given to earmarking some of those proceeds for a digital strategy, including digital cultural funding. We can use some of that revenue directly in this area.
Finally and fifthly, I can't help but deal with it: copyright. It goes without saying that copyright policy is an important part of a government strategy on new media. As part of that policy, I think it's absolutely crucial to ensure that we maintain in the online world the copyright balance that exists offline. This means that creators receive appropriate compensation and have the flexibility they need to be able to create. It means that users maintain their user rights. It means that companies don't face an intellectual property thicket when they attempt to innovate in this space.
I'd point to three key areas here. First off, Canada should implement the WIPO Internet treaties. That said, the WIPO Internet treaties offer considerable flexibility in how they are implemented, particularly around the issue of anti-circumvention rules--digital locks--a fact that was recently confirmed in a Conference Board of Canada report on intellectual property. This means that we can implement the treaties and link it to circumvention where there is actual copyright infringement.
Secondly, there is the issue of intermediary liability, largely thought of as ISPs. Frankly, I think this should be an easy one. Both of the digital copyright bills that we've seen in the past, Bill C-60 and Bill C-61, adopted the same approach: notice and notice. This involves a copyright holder sending a notification to an ISP, which is then obligated to send on that notification to a subscriber.
These notifications work. The Business Software Alliance has noted their effectiveness, as many users receive the notification and alter their conduct accordingly. In fact, recently, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada pointed to its own study, which found that 29% didn't respond to the notice, leaving an impressive 71% that did. I think those are pretty strong numbers.
Thirdly, there is fair dealing. Today, we all recognize that there is a problem with fair dealing. Everyday activities such as recording television shows or format shifting aren't covered. Artistic endeavours like parody aren't covered. Some teaching activities aren't covered, and innovative businesses can't rely on the provision either. This goes to the heart of new media creation.
The solution I'd propose, which I think is a clean, simple one, would be to add two words--“such as”--so that the current list of fair dealing would become illustrative rather than exhaustive, and we would build in flexibility, but--this is crucial--not lose fairness. It is fair dealing, not free dealing. Incorporating a “such as” provision would incorporate all the restrictions that currently exist within the fair dealing framework to ensure the uses are fair, but at the same time would ensure it is not limited to the narrow series of categories we currently have.
This is an exceptionally exciting period of time, I think, filled with potential for creators, consumers, and Canadian business. The Internet and the digital world offer new ways to meet the challenges of yesteryear, such as a lack of screen time, barriers in reaching an audience, and, increasingly, the high costs of production, particularly around distribution.
I think it's great to see this committee grappling with this important issue. I welcome your questions.