MP James Moore: Please Drop the Rhetoric

Posted: June 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

We tried to be civil. Unfortunately, Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore has decided to take the battle over Bill C-32 to a new low:

In the video, Moore frames all opposed to his precious copyright reform bill as fear mongers and evil doers who are against any kind of copyright reform. This kind of false rhetorical framing will not result in a copyright solution that benefits all affected parties. Instead, it just muddies the waters and makes it tough to have a real discussion about the important issues that are at hand.

As many have probably guessed from the contents of my website and twitter stream, I am against the current iteration of Bill C-32. That said, I believe strongly that copyright reform is necessary in this country. Our current laws were written before the internet really took off, and need to be modernized in order to effectively deal with new technologies and situations. Most of the proposed bill is quality content, but the Section 41, Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information, is not.

Mr. Moore needs to step down from his high horse, cut out the rhetorical bullshit, and join in on the discussion that we are having about his proposed bill. Plugging your ears and screaming ‘na-na-na-na-boo-boo’ just doesn’t cut it when you’re an elected representative of the people.


A Letter to the Federal Government Regarding Bill C-32

Posted: June 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This week, I sent the following letter the a few key members of the Federal Government, outlining my concerns with the proposed Bill C-32. Those who have read my other posts regarding the bill may notice a great deal of similar language. As always, feel free to borrow this letter and to modify it in any way, shape, or form. Printed letters can be sent to Members of Parliament free of charge, and all Members’ contact information is available here.

To: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
To: The Honourable Tony Clement
To: The Honourable James Moore

CC: Marc Garneau (Liberal Industry critic)
CC: Pablo Rodriguez (Liberal Heritage critic)
CC: Charlie Angus (NDP Digital Affairs Critic)
CC: Peter Braid (MP, Kitchener-Waterloo)

Dear Members of Parliament:

Last week, our Conservative government introduced Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act. As its title suggests, the aim of the bill is to modernize Canadian copyright law, an admirable goal considering the incredible changes that the internet has had on our economy since our copyright laws were last reviewed in 1997. With respect to its stated goal, Bill C-32 is a reasonable proposal. It contains some much needed legislation that will indeed clarify and modernize our copyright code.

For example, the Network Services section of the Bill provides a safe harbour clause for Internet service providers and other network operators. In particular, the section provides legal protection for hosting service operators whose customers may have uploaded copyrighted works to their servers. Likewise, the Copyright Infringement section sets maximum monetary awards for copyright owners who successfully charge an individual with infringement of works for personal or commercial use. Given the astronomical awards granted by American courts in both the Capitol vs. Thomas (2007) and RIAA vs. Tenenbaum (2009) cases, this is an extremely important clause.

Unfortunately, every positive aspect of the proposed law is counteracted in the Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information section of the bill, wherein the proposed law explicitly bans the use, manufacture, import, distribution, sale, or rental of any technology or device capable of circumventing any technological protection measure (also called digital rights management, or DRM) schemes that have been placed on the digital content by its distributor. Should the bill become law, any use of the aforementioned technologies will constitute an immediate infringement of copyright and make the responsible party liable to all damages outlined within. Therefore, this section effectively removes all of the rights granted in earlier portions of the bill, including Non-commercial User-generated Content and Reproduction for Private Purposes, the two sections that the government is using to desperately peddle this bill as consumer-positive, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. In particular, the latter section proposes that it be made legal to create personal reproductions of copyrighted material (often referred to as time- or format-shifting, an activity that the vast number of Canadians already take part in) so long as a number of conditions are met, one of which is that “the individual, in order to make the reproduction, did not circumvent, as defined in section 41, a technological protection measure, as defined in that section, or cause one to be circumvented.”

Just like that, with a single sentence, all of the ‘rights’ that the Conservative government is waving around as they insist that their approach to copyright reform is not bought and paid for by foreign media conglomerates are struck from the record. With an anti-circumvention clause built into our copyright law, the ability to use legitimately purchased digital media in a fair and open manner (generally called fair use in the USA or fair dealing here in Canada) ceases to exist. The reason for this is that an excruciatingly small minority of the digital media that is sold today is unencumbered by some form of digital rights management. DVDs? Encrypted. Your player contains software that allows them to be read. BluRay discs? The very same. Video games? Every one. Perhaps this is the real reason that Bill C-32 was introduced at video game developer Electronic Arts’ Montreal studios. Cable television, Netflix digital downloads, eBooks, computer software of all sorts, online television services, and an uncountable number of other current and future consumer media products are all protected by some form of DRM. About the only type of digital media that you can actually buy that does not come coated in some form of technological protection measure is music, and yet millions of Canadians who purchased music from Apple’s iTunes store prior to January of 2009 still have affected tracks in their music collections. Under the proposed law, none of this digital content can be backed up, moved to a different device, transcoded to a different format, or otherwise tampered with, because to do so would require that its owner break the DRM that has been placed on it, thus making that person a criminal in the eyes of Canadian courts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about laws of this sort is that they are known to be ineffective at stopping internet piracy. In 1996, before popular file-sharing services like Napster, KaZaa, Limewire, and BitTorrent were even invented, a group of countries that included Canada signed the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty (WIPO), a document that required that signatory countries enact laws prohibiting the circumvention of digital rights management schemes. The United States did so in its 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and twelve years later, the Canadian government is seeking to ratify the treaty under pressure from the United States and the European Union. Unfortunately for the government, a great deal has changed since the turn of the century, and many consumers are now aware of the problems that rights management schemes can cause them while trying to use their legitimately purchased media in seemingly normal and socially acceptable ways. In those same twelve years, the digital piracy situation faced by media companies worldwide has grown exponentially, and various media industries attribute billions of dollars per year in losses to digital piracy. If anti-circumvention laws were truly effective, piracy should never have become the problem that media companies claim that it is today; the DMCA put anti-circumvention laws in place in the United States a full year before the invention of Napster and three years before the introduction of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol.

In truth, anti-circumvention laws styled after the United States’ DMCA serve only to reduce consumer choice while failing to prevent digital piracy in any capacity whatsoever. Lawmakers would do well to understand that DRM schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side. Further, it is essential that lawmakers understand that a single defeat of the DRM scheme designed to protect digital media often results in the widespread availability of that media to any and all interested parties by way of the internet. Therein lies the problem with DRM as an anti-piracy measure: One does not have to be a determined hacker to access the media that a DRM scheme is intended to protect; one simply requires access to the internet, and knowledge of a website that distributes media that has been helpfully unlocked by other, more capable parties. The global nature of the internet ensures that the parties most interested in defeating digital rights management schemes need not operate in countries unfriendly to their cause. For these reasons, a government mandate that protects the sanctity of digital locks will not have the desired effect of preventing widespread domestic piracy. Instead, such a ruling will serve only to impact the ability of consumers to utilize their rightfully purchased digital media in a fair and open manner.

Since anti-circumvention legislation has not reduced piracy rates in countries where it has been introduced, and since the DRM schemes that it aims to sanctify do little to stop widespread piracy, but do make common criminals out of legitimate customers on a wide scale, it is a simple matter to conclude that this type of legislation is not, and never will be, in the best interests of the consumer. Gentlemen, I urge you all to reconsider the laws proposed in Bill C-32. As a young entrepreneur and a professional employed in our strong technology sector, I cannot help but be concerned about the potentially stifling effects of the proposed legislation on our economy, and on our ability to innovate and to create the technologies of the future.

Thank you for your time,

Jonathan Fritz, BSc.


The Problem with Bill C-32

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This past week, the Honourable James Moore, Conservative Minister of Heritage & Official Languages and the Honourable Tony Clement, Conservative Minister of Industry introduced Bill C-32, “Copyright Modernization Act at the Electronic Arts studios in Montreal, Quebec. As its title suggests, the aim of the bill is to modernize copyright law in Canada, an admirable goal considering that our copyright laws haven’t been reviewed since 1997. In Internet time, that’s nearly an eternity, and a lot has changed since then. With respect to its stated goal, Bill C-32 is a reasonably good proposal of law. It contains some much needed legislation that will indeed clarify and modernize our copyright code.

For example, the Network Services section provides a safe harbour clause for Internet service providers and other network operators. In particular, the section provides legal protection for hosting service operators whose customers may have uploaded copyrighted works to their servers. Likewise, the Copyright Infringement section sets maximum monetary awards for copyright owners who successfully charge an individual with infringement of works for personal or commercial use. Given the astronomical awards granted by American courts in both the Capitol vs. Thomas and RIAA vs. Tenenbaum cases, this is an extremely important clause.

Unfortunately, these positive aspects of the proposed law are counteracted in the Technological Protection Measures and Rights Management Information section of the bill. In this section, the proposed law explicitly bans the use, manufacture, import, distribution, sale, or rental of any technology or device capable of circumventing any technological protection measures (also called digital rights management, or DRM) schemes that have been placed on the digital content by its distributor. Under the proposed law, any use of the aforementioned technologies constitutes an immediate infringement of copyright, and makes the responsible party liable to all damages outlined therein. The problem with this section is that it effectively removes all of the rights granted in earlier sections of the bill, including Non-commercial User-generated Content and Reproduction for Private Purposes, the two sections that the government is using to desperately peddle this bill as consumer-positive, when in fact it is nothing of the sort. In particular, the latter section proposes that it be made legal to create personal reproductions of copyrighted material so long as a number of conditions are met, one of which is that “the individual, in order to make the reproduction, did not circumvent, as defined in section 41, a technological protection measure, as defined in that section, or cause one to be circumvented.”

And just like that, with a single sentence, all of the ‘rights’ that the government is waving around as they insist that their approach to copyright reform is not bought and paid for by foreign media conglomerates are struck from the record. You see, with an anti-circumvention clause built into our copyright law, the ability to use legitimately purchased digital media in a fair and open manner (generally called fair use in the USA or fair dealing here in Canada) ceases to exist. The reason for this is because an excruciatingly small minority of the digital media that is for sale today is unencumbered by some form of digital rights management. DVDs? Encrypted. Your player contains software that allows them to be read. BluRay discs? Same deal. Video Games? Absolutely. Why do you think the government introduced the law at Electronic Arts’ Montreal studios? Cable television, Netflix digital downloads, eBooks, computer software of all sorts, online television from Hulu and other major providers, and an uncountable number of other consumer media products are all protected by some form of DRM. About the only type of digital media that you can actually buy that doesn’t come coated in some form of protection measure is music, but millions of people who purchased music from the iTunes store prior to January of 2009 still have affected tracks in their music collections. Under the proposed law, none of this digital content can be backed up, moved to a different device, transcoded to a different format, or otherwise tampered with, because to do so would require that its owner break the DRM that has been placed on it, thus making that person a criminal in the eyes of Canadian courts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about laws of this sort is that they are known to be ineffective at stopping internet piracy. Way back in 1996, before Napster, KaZaa, Limewire, or BitTorrent were invented, a group of countries got together and signed the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaty, a document that required that signatory countries enact laws prohibiting the circumvention of digital rights management schemes. The United States did so in its 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and 12 years later, the Canadian government is seeking to ratify the treaty under pressure from the United States and the European Union by following suit. Unfortunately for the government, a lot has happened since the turn of the century, and many consumers are now aware of the problems that rights management schemes can cause them while trying to use their legitimately purchased media in seemingly acceptable ways. In those same 12 years, the piracy situation has yet to stabalize, and the various media industries still attribute billions of dollars per year in losses to digital piracy. So what’s going on? If anti-circumvention laws were truly effective, wouldn’t the rate of piracy drop in countries where they are introduced?

Allow me to explain with a quote from one of my previous posts, An Open Letter to the Conservative Government of Canada:

Anti-circumvention laws styled after those of the United States’ 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act serve only to reduce consumer choice while failing to prevent digital piracy in any capacity whatsoever. Lawmakers would do well to understand that digital rights management (DRM) schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side. In the digital case, a single defeat of the DRM system designed to protect digital media often results in the widespread availability of that media to any and all interested parties by way of the internet. Therein lies the biggest problem with DRM schemes: One does not have to be a determined hacker to access the media that a DRM scheme is intended to protect; one simply requires access to the internet, and knowledge of a website that distributes media that has been helpfully unlocked by other, more capable parties. The global nature of the internet ensures that the parties most interested in defeating digital rights management schemes need not operate in countries unfriendly to their cause. As such, a government mandate that protects the sanctity of digital locks will not have the desired effect of preventing widespread domestic piracy. Instead, such a ruling will serve only to impact the ability of consumers to utilize their rightfully purchased digital media in a fair and open manner.

Since anti-circumvention legislation has not reduced piracy rates in countries where it has been introduced, and since the digital rights management schemes that it aims to sanctify often do little to stop widespread piracy, but do inconvenience legitimate customers on a wide scale, it is a simple matter to conclude that this type of legislation is not, and never will be, in the best interests of the consumer, who also happens to be the voter responsible for electing the officers of government that attempt to introduce it into law. So why are your elected representatives being complacent in protecting your interests? Perhaps you should ask them about it.

Those readers with an interest in copyright law, internet piracy, and the effects of anti-circumvention legislation are encouraged to read Ripped by Greg Kot and Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars by William Patry, as well as to check out Professor Michael Geist’s excellent Blog.


An Open Letter to the Conservative Government of Canada

Posted: May 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

To: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
To: The Honourable Tony Clement
To: The Honourable James Moore

CC: Marc Garneau (Liberal Industry critic)
CC: Pablo Rodriguez (Liberal Heritage critic)
CC: Charlie Angus (NDP Digital Affairs Critic)
CC: Peter Braid (MP, Kitcener-Waterloo)

Dear Members of Parliament:

It is with much consternation that I view the continued efforts of the federal Conservative government of Canada to ‘reform’ Canadian copyright law. I fear that the government has lost sight of the original purpose of copyright law, and has forgotten their sworn duty to protect the interests of their constituents over those of foreign media conglomerates.  This week brought the news that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ordered the Honourable James Moore, Conservative Minister of Heritage & Official Languages, to proceed in drafting a copyright reform bill that is likely to include strong anti-circumvention clauses and an inflexible approach to fair dealing exceptions. As a Canadian citizen and an entrepreneur in our strong technology sector, I must make clear my view that these types of laws fail to benefit the end users of technology, and Canadian industry as a whole.

In particular, anti-circumvention laws styled after those of the United States’ 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act serve only to reduce consumer choice while failing to prevent digital piracy in any capacity whatsoever. Lawmakers would do well to understand that digital rights management (DRM) schemes are no more than the digital counterparts of real-world mechanical locks. There has never been, and will never be, a lock that cannot be broken by any determined party with time, knowledge, and resources on their side. In the digital case, a single defeat of the DRM system designed to protect digital media often results in the widespread availability of that media to any and all interested parties by way of the internet. Therein lies the biggest problem with DRM schemes: One does not have to be a determined hacker to access the media that a DRM scheme is intended to protect; one simply requires access to the internet, and knowledge of a website that distributes media that has been helpfully unlocked by other, more capable parties.

The global nature of the internet ensures that the parties most interested in defeating digital rights management schemes need not operate in countries unfriendly to their cause. As such, a government mandate that protects the sanctity of digital locks will not have the desired effect of preventing widespread domestic piracy. Instead, such a ruling will serve only to impact the ability of consumers to utilize their rightfully purchased digital media in a fair and open manner. Taken to their fullest extent, anti-circumvention laws prevent consumers from watching legitimately purchased films on their computers and from listening to personally owned music on their mobile devices. They encourage a marketplace that limits consumer choice and promotes vendor lock-in; a market that licenses media to consumers instead of selling it. This situation often results in the loss of personal property when DRM servers that consumers rely on to enjoy their media are inevitably shut down for economical reasons.

Last summer, the federal Conservative government conducted public copyright consultations under the auspices of creating what they advertised as a “made in Canada approach to copyright reform.” Unfortunately, it seems as though the thousands of voices that participated in those deliberations were largely ignored by this government, contrary to the very concept of a representative democracy. While we can all agree that copyright reform is necessary, it is important that the reforms that are ultimately enacted accurately represent the interests of the majority of Canadians, whose lives are impacted by their access to media technology on a daily basis. We must remember that the primary purpose of copyright law is provide a monetary incentive for artists to contribute to our society, and not to enrich foreign media conglomerates.

Thank you for your time,

Jonathan Fritz,

A concerned citizen

This open letter was emailed and posted to all listed Members of Parliament. If you are interested in joining in on the discussion and want your voice to be heard by your representatives, feel free to borrow my letter and to modify it as you wish. Alternatively, head over to the website of the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights and use their automated form to accomplish the same task.


A ‘Made in Canada Solution’ My Ass

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Today, Michael Geist, law professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law from the University of Ottawa, tweeted a link to some leaked documents allegedly pertaining to trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union. While there are quite a few documents available, I took a moment to flip through the one focused on intellectual property negotiations, and found some rather shocking proposals that would both lengthen existing copyright terms and dismantle what few fair-use laws currently exist in Canada.

It’s no secret that our federal copyright law is a mess. While US copyright law tends to be more draconian in nature (see the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act), Canadian copyright law consists of a mass of overlapping statutes and supreme court decisions that combine to make it inefficient, costly to consumers, and extremely hard to navigate. Check out this episode of Jesse Brown’s Search Engine Podcast for a great interview with Howard Knopf, an intellectual property lawyer from Ottawa who believes that Canada already has excessive IP laws, and the Copyright Board of Canada’s ridiculously long list of Canadian copyright organizations for more information.

This past summer, our federal conservative government held public copyright consultations on the possibility of Canadian copyright reform. At the time, I both participated in the consultation process, and wrote a lengthy post detailing my answers to the questions posed by the government. Based on this leak, and previous leaks of alleged ACTA materials, I guess that secretive international treaties were what our government actually had in mind when they said that they would take a ‘made in Canada’ approach to the reform process.

So without further ado (and with full recognition that I am not a lawyer, and could be way off the mark with my comments), I’ll run through a couple of the scarier things that I found in the leaked document:

  1. A possible extension of existing copyright terms from 50 years to 70 past death:

    The rights of an author of a literary or artistic work within the meaning of Article 2 of the Berne Convention shall run for the life of the author [EC: and for 70 years after his death, irrespective of the date when the work is lawfully made available to the public.] [Canada: and the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of at least 50 years following the end of that calendar year.]

  2. Term extensions for orphaned works:

    [EC: In the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term of protection shall run for 70 years after the work is lawfully made available to the public.] [Canada: Where the identity of the author of a work is unknown, copyright in the work shall subsist for whichever of the following terms ends earlier:
    (a) a term consisting of the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year, and
    (b) a term consisting of the remainder of the calendar year of the making of the work and a period of seventy-five years following the end of that calendar year.]

  3. 25-year term protection for the first person who uses a copyrighted work after its initial expiry date:

    [EC: The Parties shall ensure that any person who, after the expiry of copyright protection, for the first time lawfully publishes or lawfully communicates to the public a previously unpublished work, shall benefit from a protection equivalent to the economic rights of the author. The term of protection of such rights shall be 25 years from the time when the work was first lawfully published or lawfully communicated to the public.

  4. Non-negotiable royalties to the rights holder of a copyrighted work any time that it is resold (this could mean a loss of the ability to sell used books/CDs at a garage sale):

    The Parties shall provide, for the benefit of the author of an original work of art, a resale right, to be defined as an inalienable right, which cannot be waived, even in advance, to receive a royalty based on the sale price obtained for any resale of the work, subsequent to the first transfer of the work by the author.

  5. Full-on DMCA-style prohibition of any device that can be used to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes:

    The Parties shall provide adequate legal protection against the circumvention of any effective technological measures, which the person concerned carries out in the knowledge, or with reasonable grounds to know, that he or she is pursuing that objective. The Parties shall provide adequate legal protection against the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, rental, advertisement for sale or rental, or possession for commercial purposes of devices, products or components or the provision of services which:
    (a) are promoted, advertised or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of, or
    (b) have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent, or
    (c) are primarily designed, produced, adapted or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitation the circumvention of, any effective technological measures.
    For the purposes of this Agreement, the expression ‘technological measures’ means any technology, device or component that, in the normal course of its operation, is designed to prevent or restrict acts, in respect of works or other subject-matter, which are not authorised by the right holder of any copyright or any right related to copyright as provided for by law. Technological measures shall be deemed ‘effective’ where the use of a protected work or other subject matter is controlled by the right holders through application of an access control or protection process, such as encryption, scrambling or other transformation of the work or other subject-matter or a copy control mechanism, which achieves the protection objective.

  6. As well legal ramifications for any person who uses a device that can circumvent DRM schemes:

    The Parties shall provide adequate legal protection against any person knowingly performing without authority any of the following acts:
    (a) the removal or alteration of any electronic rights-management information;
    (b) the distribution, importation for distribution, broadcasting, communication or making available to the public of works or other subject-matter protected under this Agreement from which electronic rights-management information has been removed or altered without authority, if such person knows, or has reasonable grounds to know, that by so doing he is inducing, enabling, facilitating or concealing an infringement of any copyright or any rights related to copyright as provided by law.

  7. Finally, a potentially positive section that seems to limit the ability of ISPs to use deep-packet inspection and selective filtering on their customers’ internet connections:

    Where an information society service is provided that consists of the transmission in a communication network of information provided by a recipient of the service, or the provision of access to a communication network, Parties shall ensure that the service provider is not liable for the information transmitted, on condition that the provider:
    (a) does not initiate the transmission;
    (b) does not select the receiver of the transmission; and
    (c) does not select or modify the information contained in the transmission.

Please take a moment to read the document for yourself, and consider contacting your member of parliament to discuss the proposed treaty with him/her. It’s only by being vigilant that we, the citizenry, can protect our rights against laws such as this that are quite obviously slanted in the favour of corporate rights holders.


Canada Cripples Copenhagen

Posted: January 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Our spineless excuse for a government has publicly presented the results of the Copenhagen Accord on Climate Change negotiations. Once again, our Conservative government lead by the Right Honourable Stephen Harper has proven that it just doesn’t give a shit.

According to the Globe and Mail, Canada has officially agreed to reduce it’s carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, our government still hasn’t managed to meet their 2006 goal of reducing our emissions to 3% lower than 1990 levels.

Dave Martin, a spokesman with the Greenpeace foundation has pointed out that this new target will actually increase our emissions levels by 2.5% over the levels that the Conservative government’s as of yet unaccomplished 2006 goal would have yielded.

We’re heading in exactly the opposite direction that we need to head,” Mr. Martin said. “Not only have they reneged on the target that they adopted a couple of years ago, they have also failed to put in place the regulations that they promised last year – Dave Martin, Greanpeace

While the shockingly nonsensical stance that Greenpeace takes on nuclear technology gives me very little reason to trust anything that the group publishes, Mr. Martin has written some excellent pieces covering the Harper government’s lack of commitment to the Copenhagen process.

But perhaps more worrying than the alleged role that the United State’s own climate policy has played in crafting our targets is the lack of hindsight in the following statement from Conservative Environment Minister Jim Prentice:

Mr. Prentice pointed out the major emitters such as China, Brazil, India and the United States didn’t have obligations to cut emissions under the Kyoto accord. He hopes this time it’s different, and that there will soon be news of emission cuts from countries that haven’t yet announced their own targets. – Bill Graveland, The Globe and Mail

Jim – I hate to have to be the one to break it to you, but your government didn’t cut emissions either. In fact, during the last election, it crippled the Liberal Party’s attempt to put a real plan for cutting our emissions in place. Way to set an example, buddy.


School’s out for… No Good Reason Whatsoever

Posted: January 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Lately, the big political news in Canada has been Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s third prorogation of parliament in as many years. The opposition parties were quick to accuse him of using the move to delay inquiry into the Afghan detainee abuse scandal, while various Canadian pundits have spent the last week putting in their two cents regarding the issue. Those who read into the situation will find many opinions; very few of them are in favour of the Prime Minister, and many of them call his use of prorogation abusive, using his response to last year’s coalition dispute as evidence. For those who need a refresher, The Globe and Mail’s Rex Murphy paints an excellent picture of the effect of that catastrophe on the make-up of Canadian Parliament in this piece.

Personally, I am of the opinion that the leaders of all four major parties are clowns, and that we ought to consider starting over again. Perhaps if we try really hard, we might be able to elect some people who work for more than just sound bites and care about the future of our country beyond the next four years. Since that’s unlikely to happen, I console myself with the writings of comedian Rick Mercer and musician Matthew Good. Together, they pretty much sum up my thoughts on the matter. It is funny though, that while the Liberal Party’s website sports several videos and press releases commenting on the closure of Parliament, the Conservative Party’s site is just the opposite. There isn’t a comment to be found on the matter. Perhaps it’s better that Harper just keep his mouth shut on the issue. He’s already got everything exactly the way that he wants it.


A Few Good Reads

Posted: December 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Politics, Software | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The following is a handy list of a few of the things that I’ve been keeping an eye on lately.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement:

If you haven’t been reading slashdot lately, you might not know that representatives from the governments of most of the developed world have recently been participating in some top-secret meetings aimed at establishing something called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA for short. Now, according to Michael Geist, the proposed agreement actually has very little to do with counterfeiting, and an awful lot to do with copyright protections for big content – the same guys who influenced the USA’s Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Based on leaked information, Geist has pieced together a very good explanation of the proposed agreement as an online slide show that I snagged from TVO’s Search Engine blog:

Now as you might expect, quite a few people got uppity when they found out that the government was participating in secret meetings with the aim of establishing a global copyright treaty that would bypass the house of commons and fly in the face of last summer’s copyright consultations. So many people in fact, that NDP MP Charlie Angus questioned Industry Minister Tony Clement about it during yesterday’s question period. Thanks to the work of Fair Copyright for Canada, a video of their exchange is available on YouTube:

I too am pretty incensed at the government for keeping this all as hush-hush as they have. As I understand, copyright isn’t even a law in Canada – it is in fact a right, and one that must be exercised by the right holder. In my opinion, it is not the business of the government or of the Internet at large to take care of exercising this right for the holder. Further, much of the leaked information about this law points to it having a clause that bans internet access to any person who has been accused (read: not convicted) of breaking copyright three times. If implemented, this clause would be open to abuse, and far too wide-ranging for my comfort.

Can Software Be Patented?

On a related note, the Supreme Court in the United States is apparently deciding something or other about the legitimacy of software patents this week. While I admit that I haven’t really kept up with the issue enough to appreciate its gravity, the resulting press has lead me to this incredible article on Groklaw that provides a beautiful explanation of Computation Theory and its implications on Patent law.

Of course, I learned all of the stuff in the article in school, but have never seen it explained as simply or applied as practically as the author does in the article. For those who are looking for a printed copy that will persist link rot, a PDF of the article is available here on my server. It’s a lengthy read, but most certainly worth your time if you are at all interested in computers, their history, and its implications on modern law.

Praise is a Strange Thing:

Another lengthy read, this article from New York magazine really got me thinking. It deals with the types of praise that parents give their children, and the implications of that praise throughout their lives. Essentially, there are two kinds of praise: Telling your child that he accomplished his goals because he is smart, and telling your child that she accomplished her goals because she worked hard at doing so. The former gives a false sense of achievement that doesn’t provide a framework for what to do in cases of failure. As a result, children praised in this manner tend to avoid things that they do not naturally do well at, even though they may be accomplished in other areas of life. A related article that I found over on Pixel Poppers considers the implications of this kind of research on video games. Specifically, the author discusses the ‘fake achievement’ that RPGs provide players when their characters level up in lieu of actual skills, and asks if this alone could be responsible for problems encountered in other areas of life.

Back to Studying:

Well, that’s about it for me. I’m back to procrastinating studying for finals.

Cheers,

Jon


Food for Thought on the Auto Bailout

Posted: December 12th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s no secret that the Detroit Big Three auto manufacturers are in serious trouble. GM and Chrysler in particular have admitted to being in danger of running out of liquidity within the next few months. Now I’m no economist, nor do I have a business degree, and frankly, I’m not really qualified to talk on the issue at all. However, while researching the issue for myself, I found a few interesting points that I think need considering before anybody forms an opinion about the proposed loans.

When the bailout bill failed to pass a vote in the United States Congress yesterday evening, a lot of people blamed the failure on the refusal of the Democrats to mandate a salary cut for UAW workers as a condition of the bailout. Republicans were particularily insistent on this condtion, and news outlets ran a story comparing an alleged $71 hourly wage for big three workers to the $49 hourly wage of Japanese auto workers. The true breakdown of the $71/hour figure can be seen in this chart from the New York Times:

NY Times Breakdown of Auto Manufacturers Wages

NY Times Breakdown of Auto Manufacturers Wages

As we can see from the ‘Legacy Costs’ section of the chart, supporting an aging retiree base accounts for much of the difference between domestic and foreign auto manufacturer wages. This is essentially a fixed cost that isn’t going away unless the Big Three forfeit on their pension promises to retired workers and their spouses.

This article by author Malcolm Gladwell explains the concept of the ‘dependence ratio;’ that is, the number of dependent members of a set of people to the number of active and working members of that same set. The concept is generally applied to countries as a function of birth rate: Simply put, when a country experiences a massive downturn in birthrate, everybody benefits in the short term because the same number of people in the work force have to support fewer dependents with their tax dollars. It works in the other way as well – right now in Canada, we have an aging baby boomer workforce that will soon retire to be replaced by my generation. When that happens, we will have a massive number of dependents in a system with far fewer workers, raising our dependence ratio and by and large, making my generation far less liquid than my parents.

The concept of a dependence ratio explains a lot in economies and societies, but can also be applied to large companies in a pension crunch like the Big Three auto makers. Basically, the pensions for all of the domestic auto maker’s retirees are a linear function. More retirees means more in yearly pension payments, and these companies have a lot of retirees because they’ve been around for a long time. Foreign auto makers have far fewer retirees to support by a long shot, which explains the ‘Legacy Costs’ section of the above chart. Take that out, and domestic auto workers cost about the same as foreign ones do.

But that isn’t the end of the problem. Free market economics state that to stay competitive, and thus profitable, a company must continually increase the quality of the product that it produces while decreasing the cost of production in order to raise profit margins. Manufacturing companies decrease the cost of production by automating processes so that it takes fewer man hours to assemble the same product. The domestic auto makers have done a great job of this, and now employ far fewer people than they used to, and have increased the profit margins on their vehicles significantly since ye olden days.

However, when a company is responsible for the pensions of all of its retirees, this process of improvement actually works against the company – they decrease the number of employees, whose working hours have to pay for the pensions of all of the retirees, thus increasing their dependence ratio by a massive amount. If a company sells cars, it can express the profit made on a sale in terms of the number of man hours that went into creating that car. If fewer man hours went into making that car each year by improving the process, but more retirees had to be paid from those man hours, the ‘wage’ of every worker is artificially increased every year by the overhead of pensions, even though the worker never sees an extra dime.

The only way to offset this artificial wage inflation is to increase the profit margin of your cars proportionally to the rising dependence ratio. Enter the credit crisis: A catastrophe in no way the fault of the auto makers has decreased public demand for new cars. Sales are at their lowest point across the board since the early 80′s. Yes, even Toyota and Honda and all of those other car companies are experiencing decreased sales – however, they’re more prepared to handle it, because they don’t support a fleet of retirees nearly the size of the domestic manufacturers. While the market share of the Big Three is lower than ever (47% this year), I would argue that this number has been falling for some time now, and that these companies have been taking steps to deal with that fact. Only the rise of this credit crisis has been able to push the numbers so far south that there is no recovering from the implications.

So the question arises: even if we do bail these companies out, can they turn things around and become profitable again, or will we be throwing money at a hopeless situation? The market share situation certainly doesn’t look promising:

Big Three Market Share

Big Three Market Share

If nobody wants to buy the product that Detroit is making, then how can they ever overcome their liquidity problems? In all liklihood, without a massive restructuring program that cuts costs by billions a year, they cannot. Remember that even if employee wages stay the same (and they don’t in the real world), the cost of supporting all of those retirees is linear – it will only go up barring some ridiculous epidemic that kills off all of those retired auto workers and their spouses. Even with an immediate cash injection, there would have to be a massive program in place to immediately cut costs before the companies simply burn through the provided money.

Unlike most of the ‘blogosphere,’ I don’t pretend to have the answers. Sure, we could let them sink, but then we’d have thousands out of jobs, and the effect on the economies of both Canada and the USA would be disasterous. On the other hand, if these bailout packages go through, are we just pissing away hard-earned taxpayer money? What I do know is this: When corporations are made responsible for the well being of their employees post-retirement, they reach a point at which they can no longer be competitive in the free marketplace. This is what governments are for, and why a social safety net should be in place that provides health care and pensions to every worker from an account that every company in the country pays into yearly as a part of their corporate taxes. That kind of nationalised pension system would remove the pressure on successful companies to support their retired workforce and let them get on with the business of being profitable, the core purpose of every corporation ever established.

Oh, and by the way: If you were hoping to cash in on a pension from one of the Big Three in the next 10 years, I hope you have a savings account, ’cause you’re gonna need it.

Cheers,

Jon

Edit: Fixed images so that they didn’t ruin my tables. Unfortunately, now my text alignment is disgusting. Whatever.


Mansbridge vs. Harper

Posted: December 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

For those who might have missed the action last night on CBC’s The National with Peter Mansbridge, our dear Prime Minister Mr. Stephen Harper dropped by to have a one on one with Mansbridge about the current economic and political crisis in Canada. You can catch the video at the CBC website. In it, Mansbridge gives Harper the beat down as only a bleeding heart liberal journalist can. The fact that he can say what he did to the PM’s face and still have a job the next day makes me proud to be a Canadian.

Of course, that feeling is largely offset by the shame that the majority of Canadians probably didn’t even know or care that the Prime Minister was speaking on national television last night, and didn’t bother to tune in and see what he had to say.

What a joke.