The United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA), replacing the NAFTA, is expected to be signed by the end of November 2019. The agreement provides robust intermediary liability protections to websites and online platforms. The article 19.17.2 of the agreement reflects the American Communication Decency Act at a large extent, providing that ‘no Party shall adopt or maintain measures that threat a supplier or user of an interactive computer service as an information content provider in determining liability for harms related to information stored, processed, transmitted, distributed, or made available by the service, except to the extent the supplier or user has, in whole or in part, created, or developed the information’. This provision, depending on how it will be integrated into Canadian law by the parliament, can impact the Canadian system of intermediary liabilities. Contrary to the US, Canadian law holds websites liable for third-party content, if they know that the content is illegal. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Internet service providers (ISPs) can become liable when they do not take action once given notice of an infringement, in two landmark cases, SOCAN v. Canadian Association of Internet Providers and Crookes v. Newton.
Knowledge and ideas are key resources in the global economy. The protection of knowledge and ideas, through Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), has become one of the predominant issues in the Internet governance debate. Internet-related IPR include copyright and trademarks. Copyright protects the expression of an idea when it is materialised in various forms, such as a book, CD, or computer file. The idea itself is not protected by copyright. In practice, it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction between the idea and its expression.
The copyright regime has closely followed the technological evolution. Every new invention, such as the printing press, radio, television, and the VCR, has affected both the form and the application of copyright rules. The Internet is no exception. The traditional concept of copyright has been challenged in numerous ways, from those as simple as ‘cutting and pasting’ texts from the Web to more complex activities, such as the massive distribution of music and video materials via the Internet.
The Internet also empowers copyright holders, by providing them with more powerful technical tools for protecting and monitoring the use of copyrighted material. These developments endanger the delicate balance between authors’ rights and the public’s interest, which is the very basis of the copyright law.
Amend existing or develop new copyright mechanisms?
How should copyright mechanisms be adjusted to reflect the profound changes effected by ICT and Internet developments? One answer suggested by the US government’s White Paper on Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure is that only minor changes are needed in existing regulation, mainly through ‘dematerialising’ the copyright concepts of ‘fixation’, ‘distribution’, ‘transmission’, and ‘publication’. This approach was followed in the main international copyright treaties, including the Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) convention and the WIPO Copyright Treaty.
However, the opposite view argues that changes in the legal system must be profound, since copyright in the digital era no longer refers to the ‘right to prevent copying’ but also to the ‘right to prevent access’. Ultimately, with ever greater technical possibilities of restricting access to digital materials, one can question whether copyright protection is necessary at all. It remains to be seen how the public interest, the second part of the copyright equation, will be protected.
Protection of the public interest – the ‘fair use’ of copyright materials
Copyright was initially designed to encourage creativity and invention. This is why it combined two elements: the protection of authors’ rights and the protection of the public interest. The main challenge was to stipulate how the public can access copyrighted materials in order to enhance creativity, knowledge, and global well-being. Operationally speaking, the protection of the public interest is ensured through the concept of the ‘fair use’ of protected materials.
Copyright and development
Any restriction of fair use could weaken the position of developing countries. The Internet provides researchers, students, and others from developing countries with a powerful tool for participating in global academic and scientific exchanges. A restrictive copyright regime could have a negative impact on capacity building in developing countries. Another aspect is the increasing digitisation of cultural and artistic crafts from developing countries. Paradoxically, developing countries may end up having to pay for their cultural and artistic heritage when it is digitised, repackaged, and owned by foreign entertainment and media companies.
Knowledge and ideas are key resources in the global economy. The protection of knowledge and ideas, through IPR, has become one of the predominant issues in the Internet governance debate, and has a strong development-oriented component. Internet-related IPR include copyright, trademarks, and patents.
Trademarks are relevant to the Internet because of the registration of domain names. In the early phase of Internet development, the registration of domain names was based on a first come, first served basis. This led to cybersquatting, the practice of registering names of companies and selling them later at a higher price.
The impact of the Internet on businesses and the global economy has been crucial in shaping new economic models, and at the same time, raising new concerns.
The Internet is one of the primary drivers of economic growth, which is visible in many countries that have placed the development of ICT as one of the primary tools for boosting the economy.
Intermediaries play a vital role in ensuring Internet functionality. In several Internet governance areas, such as copyright infringement and spam, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are considered key online intermediaries. In other areas, such as defamation and the so-called right to be forgotten, the responsibility extends to hosts of online content and search engines.