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Canada's Innovation Deficit

:: Michael Geist, Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa, has written a through-provoking and timely article in the Toronto Star about the innovation deficit in Canada. Next week in Canada, the Governor General will deliver the Speech From The Throne to begin the fall session in the Canadian House of Commons. Geist writes:

While the government will likely propose a plan to avoid a fiscal deficit, there are two other Canadian deficits that merit its attention as well. This week's column addresses one of these Canada's innovation deficit. The federal and provincial governments urgently need to adopt policies that foster innovation by increasing access to, and dissemination of, cutting-edge Canadian knowledge and research in order to correct the imbalance between dollars spent on research and educational materials and the corresponding outputs to the Canadian research and education communities.
Geist outlines three issues he believes need to be addressed. Concerning dissemination of publicly funded research, he advocates an open-access model:
Late last month, a group of Nobel prize winners in the United States (which faces the same dilemma) issued a public letter calling on their government to link public research funding with public dissemination of the results. Canada should jump at the chance to adopt a similar model that would tie free, public dissemination to all publicly funded research. Such an approach would still leave room to commercialize the research results, while providing Canadians with an unprecedented innovation opportunity and a more immediate return on its research granting investment.

Geist is concerned that potential copyright reform regarding security-based research could result in more barriers to dissemination of the results of this kind of research. This has already happened in the USA, with the enactment of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act:

In the United States, the enactment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has led directly to such a chill. For example, several years ago a Princeton researcher sought to release an important study on encryption. When he publicly disclosed his plans, he was served with a warning that he faced potential legal liability under the DMCA if he publicly disclosed his findings. Similarly, in 2001, a Russian software programmer was arrested and spent the summer in a California jail after highlighting encryption weaknesses in an Adobe software product at a public conference.

Canada can ill-afford to follow the United States down this path. In fact, by refusing to ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet treaties that serve as the basis for the DMCA, the federal government will maintain an environment that encourages the dissemination of research results and creates a competitive advantage that will attract security researchers to Canada.

Finally, he argues that Canadian educational institutions must stop paying copy licences to various Canadian copyright collectives:
While copyright collectives claim that education institutions need licenses to compensate for faculty and student copying, many copying activities are permitted under Canadian copyright law without the need for payment. The Copyright Act contains an explicit user right for copying for research or private study purposes (surely the most common uses of works on university campuses). The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that this user right must be interpreted in a liberal fashion such that copying full articles may be lawful in certain circumstances.
The full-text of Michael Geist's article is available here.

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