And Just Who Really Controls that New Shiny Connected Device of Yours?

With a little help from a friend, I happened on 3 different stories in the news this week and that all relate, to some degree or another, to connected devices, including IoT devices and vehicles. If you ask me, it’s hard not to conclude that these 3 stories aren’t symptomatic of a trend. See for yourself:

The first story from this article relates to BMW, in South Korea, that now offers drivers access to certain functionalities installed in their new cars subject to the payment of subscription fees. The article mentions as an example heated seats which may only be used once the user agrees to fork over monthly fees. Failing this, BMW deactivates (or does not activate) the functionality remotely, so that, even though the vehicle technically includes it, it is inoperable. You read this right: you buy the car but not everything works off the bat, until you agree to pay monthly fees, in addition to your purchase price. After all, you just paid $80,000 for that car, what’s $20 per month?

The second story on that theme comes from this article  and relates to JOHN DEERE tractors. As you may have read recently, with the war in Ukraine, Russian forces are not only destroying things but also looting, including production and property found on farms. This happened to a bunch of tractors (a couple of millions dollars worth, apparently) which the Russians “confiscated” and quickly sent back to Russia as spoils of war. Unfortunately for them, once the tractors made it to their new home, Russian forces realized the machines has been (remotely) deactivated by the manufacturer, after they were reported stolen. As Russia just learned, it today’s world, yup, even farm equipment is connected, big time.

I happened on the third story through this article which deals with one of Amazon’s subsidiary admitting, this week, that it sometimes provides police with images from RING cameras (installed at customers’), without either consent from those owners or any warrants. Given this is done to help maintain order and ensure safety in our communities, why bother with such trivialities, right?

All three cases are symptoms of the control that manufacturers of connected devices and equipment do retain nowadays. This may be used for good or ill, but the bottom line is that we, as buyers of technology, can no longer assume we will retain control over OUR things, not total control anyway. In the age of the Internet of Things, the truth of the matter is that control will often rest elsewhere, something that can be so even though we may have bought a thing outright.

Next time you buy something that is connected, do ask yourself (and whoever’s selling it to you) to what extent the manufacturer may interact with it remotely, not only to update its firmware but also to disable it or do other things. The answer may surprise you.

Canada Now a 70 Years+ Copyright Jurisdiction

Further to Canada and the U.S. entering into a new free-trade deal a couple of years back, Canada recently formally amended its Copyright Act (the “Act”), to extend the protection term of copyright works to 70 years after death of each author.

Following the example of the U.S. that did so a good while back (after lobbying to save copyright over Mickey Mouse from falling into the public domain), Canada thus just added 20 years to how long a typical work will remain protected for. So doing, Canada joins the ranks of several foreign jurisdictions which already hoped on the longer copyright protection term bandwagon.

As to this, I should point out that the new rule will not be retroactive, so that works already in the public domain prior to 2022 will remain so. Technically, I would also point out that, to my knowledge, the coming into force date remains to be decided, though the Act has been amended, what remains is a mere technicality. So, if what you know about copyright includes the basic rule that such protection generally remains for 50 years after death of each author, you should make a mental note: that general rule is now rather 70 years after death of the author.

With a life expectancy of something like 80 years, in Canada, we’re now looking at works produced nowadays that may remain protected for 130 years or more.

Canada Updates its Competition Act

I recently became aware of changes to the Canadian Competition Act (the Act) meant to modernize this piece of legislation, including to give it a little more teeth.

The changes at issue include the following, in case you hadn’t been following this (I hadn’t):

  • The act now prohibits “drip-pricing” by on-line retailers, as it may be tantamount to false (or misleading) advertising. This is familiar to anyone who has shopped on-line where you may be drawn to a particular source offering a what seems like a good deal, until you go through the whole process and realize fees and costs are successively tacked on, so that you end-up with a price that is substantially more than the “price” that attracted you in the first place.
  • Speaking of false (or misleading) advertising, the recent changes to the Act now allow courts to impose penalties that are no longer limited to fixed (capped) amounts. From now on, whenever a judge must impose a penalty on a given business for this, (s)he may elect to set the penalty according either to what profit the business derived from its misdeed, or better yet, on a percentage (3%) of its annual global revenue. Do I have your attention now?
  • Likewise, the recent changes also remove the cap on competition-related criminal penalties, instead providing that judges now have discretion under the Act as to the amount of penalties imposed on wrongdoers.
  • Anti-poaching agreements between employers are now a big no-no, as an unacceptable constraint on the working conditions of Canadian employees by what amounts to a form of cartel. As to this, one has to admit, if you allow business to agree between them to refrain from hiring from competitors, you’re seriously limiting the prospects of employees working in that industry.

The changes at issue came into effect on June 22, 2022.