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Millions of piracy notices coming to Canadians can no longer demand cash

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Close to four years after its piracy-notice system took effect, the federal government has amended the rules to clarify that the notices can’t demand cash from Canadians.

Implemented in 2015, Canada’s notice system enables copyright holders to send warning emails to people suspected of illegally downloading content such as movies or music.

Since its inception, critics have loudly complained that some notices crossed a line by threatening legal action if the recipient didn’t pay a settlement fee — often hundreds of dollars.

Recipients of such notices also loudly complained, including 89-year-old grandmother Christine McMillan in Toronto. In 2016, she received a notice demanding money for something she says she never did — illegally download a shoot ’em up video game. 

“I was really angry,” she said. “This is a scam that’s being perpetrated by the government.”

Christine McMillan received a piracy notice accusing her of illegally downloading a video game and asking for a settlement fee. (CBC)

The government has now clarified the rules with new amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act. They state that piracy notices can’t ask for personal information or a payment including a settlement fee.

“Our amendments to the regime will protect consumers,” Hans Parmar, spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, said in an email.

However, some internet service providers (ISPs) claim the amendments don’t go far enough.

Rights holders don’t know their suspect’s actual identity, only the IP address linked to the illegal download. While ISPs won’t disclose the identity of a customer behind the IP address, they’re obligated by law to forward that customer any piracy notices.

To cope with the flood of notices they must pass on, ISPs largely rely on automated systems, which means ones demanding cash could still slip through.

“The immediate onus is on ISPs to either search for or find some way to filter for these settlement demands, which is, I think, not really possible,” said Andy Kaplan-Myrth, vice-president of regulatory and carrier affairs for internet provider TekSavvy. 

Some have paid up

Canada’s notice system was created to discourage piracy, not collect cash. But that didn’t stop some content creators from sending notices demanding money plus a link to a website where people could pay by credit card.

A compliant recipient not only paid a fine they weren’t obligated to pay, but also exposed their identity.

“It’s just not good for customers to be getting misleading information and misleading links and we don’t want any part of it,” said Kaplan-Myrth.

McMillan watches a video trailer for Metro 2033, an apocalyptic first-person shooter video game she is accused of illegally downloading. (CBC)

In McMillan’s case, she was told if she didn’t pay a fee, she could face legal fines of up to $5,000. She chose to ignore her notice.

But others have complied, including a 60-year-old woman who claimed she was falsely accused of illegally downloading porn and, out of fear, paid a settlement fee of $257.40.  

Her notice, along with McMillan’s, were sent by Canadian anti-piracy company Canipre on behalf of rights holders.

Canipre says it didn’t break any rules by asking for fees and that its goal was simply to educate abusers and deter them from reoffending.

“When you have to pay something out of your pocket, it hurts,” said Barry Logan, Canipre’s managing director. “It’s a deterrent.”

Logan said his company wasn’t out to make money or collect personal data from alleged pirates.

“There was a myth out there, that, ‘Don’t contact them, they track you.’ No. Come on. This isn’t the KGB.”

Logan declined to say how much money Canipre has collected in fees and said the company stopped sending these types of notices in early 2018, due to concerns expressed by the government.

He said he’s not disappointed by the new amendments because Canipre’s notices requesting fees achieved its goal by educating people about the repercussions of piracy.

“We got through to a few people. I know we did.”

‘Millions of notices’

Canipre said it has stopped sending requests for cash, but some major ISPs fear the new amendments may not be enough to stop a company that defies the rules.

In a recent submission to the government’s standing committee on industry, science and technology, a group involving six major ISPs including Bell, Rogers and Telus, asked for additional amendments to toughen up the government’s rules.

The group, which calls itself Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright (BCBC), said internet providers now must weed out settlement fee notices — an imperfect plan considering they deal with “millions of notices per month.”

BCBC recommends the government also mandate a standardized piracy notice that senders must adhere to, which would help eliminate the risk of non-compliant notices slipping through.

Andy Kaplan-Myrth with TekSavvy voiced his concerns about notices requesting settlement fees before a government committee in September. (Canadian Government)

TekSavvy isn’t a member of BCBC, but agrees with the plan.

“The change that should have come sort of hand in hand with this new addition is some kind of standard form,” said Kaplan-Myrth.

Even Canipre’s Logan said he’s fine with a standardized notice format — as long as it can still contain information about the legal ramifications for illegally downloading content.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said that the concerns raised by ISPs will be explored during the government’s current review of the Copyright Act.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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