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July 03, 2011

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This is only partly persuasive. Intellectual property rights have been divided by location for ages. Lots of books are available from one publisher in the US and another in the UK, for example. Films may not be released in one country when they are available in another. Patents on a product may expire in one country before they do in another.

The Canadian restrictions on broadcast rights make (or made pre-Internet) sense in the context of the obligations on Canadian broadcasters to provide some local programming. Their ability to pay for the programming depends on their ad revenue. They sell ads based on audiences for shows that they pay to have the right to transmit. This revenue is undercut if the same shows are received in Canada from foreign signals - and the transmitters of those signals did not pay for rights to distribute in Canada.

Solution: put Canadian ads on the shows received from foreign sources. That works for cable. It does not apply to over-the-air signals, of course.

Digital content is far more divisible by time, place and user than content on other media or in other forms. So content owners understandably try to maximize revenue in doing their divisions. If distributors in Canada won't pay enough, then the content will not be distributed there. (Sometimes it is alleged that Canada does not protect the IP well enough. Most such allegations are bogus.)

Ideally this kind of restriction would not be applied to information that was really valuable, as distinct from commercially saleable. So real 'science', or academic material, or public interest information, should be transmitted freely across borders. But it's up to the content owner to decide that. What does the owner want: maximum distribution or maximum revenue? Should some public authority compensate the owner (i.e. supplement the revenue) in order to increase the distribution?

I am more concerned over technological blocks to legally permitted uses of protected intellectual property within a country. But that's a different debate (in which Canada does not currently shine, I fear.)

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