Influencing the Influencers
Canada is leaking like a sieve—kind of like the ACTA negotiations. So it is for Michael Geist of the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, the Alcan of IP, the US-backed organization with a near 100% American board composition. Geist has forcefully inserted himself into the international lobbying effort amongst the anti-copyright groups so we really need to start paying attention to his activities, his movements and his benefactors. For this is someone who appears to be on a long and sustained campaign to influence the influencers—a particularly insidious form of intra-government and international “lobbying.” And “sustained” is exactly the right word. But “sustained” by whom?
It now has become apparent that there are a number of undisclosed contracts and expense reimbursements all made to Michael Geist or to his loan-out corporation, Lawbytes, Inc. dating back to at least early 2001. What is interesting about these documents is this:
— they are all conveniently within the guidelines for contracts that do not have to be publicly tendered or even publicly disclosed by the government;
— most payments seem to be for written work product that is nowhere to be found; and
–none appear on Geist’s voluminous resume (although it is so long and ponderous, I must confess I could have drifted off and missed it).
In case you are unfamiliar with the term, a “loan out” corporation is a corporation that exists for what is usually the sole purpose of providing the services of an individual. There are a couple of handy aspects to a loan-out corporation from a tax planning point of view, but one of the most handy aspects of it is that it can enter into contracts in its own name and you can have checks written to it that never mention the name of the ultimate recipient.
For example, if I asked this question this way: Do you have a contract with Michael Geist? If you had a contract with Lawbytes, Inc. for the services of Michael Geist, you could truthfully (sort of) answer the question as “No, I have no contract with Michael Geist.” Because you wouldn’t. And unless someone knew to ask the question as “do you have a contract for the services of Michael Geist” or “Do you have a contract with Lawbytes, Inc.” (meaning they would have to guess the name of the loan-out) , they never would know of the contracts—or payments. The more interesting way to phrase the question is “do you have contracts with the Canadian government?”
Industry Canada, however, has lots of contracts with Lawbytes, Inc., so that should have been an easy question for the bureaucrats to answer.
We will look at a few. And remember—this is just for Industry Canada. It doesn’t include any other government ministries or councils.
The overarching message is that notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary, these contracts would suggest that Geist not only was being consulted by bureaucrats at Industry Canada—it appears that he was being paid to consult with them and to give public voice to what appears to be their views.
2007 Copyright Roundtable: Flogging the P2P Study
Lawbytes, Inc. f/s/o Michael Geist contract number 5020326 for 4 days work from 11/5-11/8/07 is in the amount of $7,096 paid to Michael Geist to attend a Copyright Roundtable. What was the work product for this rather expensive undertaking? And is money part of the hundreds of thousands paid by Industry Canada for Geist’s Canada Research Chair? Apparently not. But then the Canada Research grant is not paid to Geist directly, so these contracts must be to make up for that shortfall? Maybe a little “walking around money” as we call it in the music business?
Ah, not quite. Based on an email exchange dated November 28, 2007 (which appears to be related to the Copyright Roundtable), Geist apparently withdrew an unsupported claim after being challenged on a $100 expense reimbursement for “taxis, parking, etc.” (now…if you take a taxi, why do you pay for parking?) Maybe that was the walking around money? It’s all so confusing. (Vinnie Barbarino, where are you when we need you, eh?)
This Copyright Roundtable is of some interest because we do have leaked slides from the presentation—so many leaks, so little time. (Aside from noticing that nowhere did Geist acknowledge that he was being paid to make the presentation by Industry Canada bureaucrats (but no taxis or parking or parking for taxis), Geist’s slides appear to be a cheap Canal Street knockoff of the standard Lessig slide deck – right down to look and feel. No wonder the professor has problems with robust copyright laws.)
One slide in particular jumped out—“no emergency”. This presumably means there was no urgent need for what is called “copyright reform” in Canada. Why? The reason Geist seems to give for there being no urgency to pass copyright reform in Canada is because of a study commissioned by Industry Canada that shows “a strong positive relationship between p2p file sharing and CD purchasing.”
One might even draw the inference that flogging this 2007 study at a 2007 conference would be exactly what Industry Canada bureaucrats might be paying Geist to do. This study bears further attention. In fact—we have been receiving a firehose of information about the hows, whys and wherefores of this “study”, this absurdity, that is another drop in the long line of bureaucratic spew that would have one believe that the Sun orbits the Earth, black is white and the Earth is hollow.
Industry Canada Speakers Bureau
Let’s look at a few contracts and invoices. Lawbytes, Inc. f/s/o Michael Geist invoice to Industry Canada Office of Consumer Affairs number ICOCA-0701 for contract number 5019007 for $3,180 for “professional services” (presumably to Industry Canada) to give the Future of the Internet Address on February 27, 2007. And again, $3,000 for one day’s work giving a speech for which he apparently was paid by the bureaucrats at Industry Canada with public money.
Contract number 1005257 for services from 4/20 to 4/25 2006 with Lawbytes, Inc. f/s/o Michael Geist for $7,490. This paid Geist to speak at “apectel 33” paid by Industry Canada’s Electronic Commerce Task Force. Contract number 8002208 for 8/23/2004 to 3/4/2005 is a payment of $10,558.76 to the University of Ottawa (which is Geist’s putative employer) for “Global Impact of the Internet” on October 1-2, 2004. This presumably correlates to a conference where Geist spoke on those days with a paper entitled “Unhappy Gilmore” which seems to have been about the use of intermediaries for the regulation of online activities. Intermediaries? Ahem. It’s unclear how much, if any, of this payment Geist got because of the..ahem…”intermediary.”
And contract 8001928 covers 1/16-3/31/2004, again paid $7,500 to the University of Ottawa for something called “Rethinking Copyright: A Roadmap to the Future”. Again, Geist spoke on the technical and contractual framework of copyright at a conference entitled “Rethinking Copyright: A Roadmap to the Future of Copyright” on May 19-21, 2004.
And yet again, contract number 8001714 dated July 11, 2003 for $10,560.04 relating to the Comparative IP and Cyberlaw Symposium on October 3-4, 2003, at which Geist was a speaker. Three contracts, three conferences, three speeches by Geist. As Philip Henslowe might say, it’s a mystery.
Now a word about this business of getting paid by the government to speak. I certainly don’t object to a guy getting a taste for his labor. But wouldn’t you think that a guy who is such a forceful advocate for transparency would want it known that he was getting paid to speak essentially on behalf of Industry Canada if not the Canadian government? Wouldn’t he be proud of it?
Should we just assume always that Geist is carrying water for the bureaucrats at Industry Canada even when he doesn’t disclose it? Said another way, is there any speech that Geist has ever made for which he wasn’t paid by Industry Canada? Perhaps there were some for the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, the Alcan of IP? Or maybe for the Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property and Information Law Clinic, the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic or the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic?
More “Influencing the Influencers”
But wait…there’s more. Contract 5014322 dated 1/27 to 2/5 2005 for Geist to prepare a report on a conference called the 2004 Internet and the Law: A Global Conversation. Eight days work, $5,350. Again, where is the report?
Contract U3200-0-0036 for services from “00/12/04” (whatever that is) to 1/1/09. $5,350.00. “The Contractor shall provide advice and comment on the Branch’s [presumably the Industry Canada Competition Bureau] draft guidelines for advertising on the Internet by”, among other things, “providing a brief report 2-5 pages to summarize comments and providing advice on areas for modification or improvement” and “meeting with the branch if necessary.” “Draft” sounds written to me. Where are these guidelines? And where is the “brief report”. (The “1/1/09” must be a typo.)
Contract 5001124 dated 6/14 to 7/31 2001 for Geist to prepare an “Internet jurisdiction report”. $2,140.00. Again, sounds like written work product. Where is it?
Travel Letter 1000808 dated 4/09 to 4/13 2001. $1,140 for travel reimbursement for “Consumer Protection”. The description of work says that the Minister of Industry desires Geist to attend the Workshop on Consumer Protection and Jurisdiction in Electronic Commerce on April 11, 2001 in Toronto at the Colony Hotel. It costs $1,140 to go from Ottawa to Toronto? For one day? Really?
Contract U551000057 from 3/14 to 6/22 2001 with Lawbytes, Inc. f/s/o Michael Geist for $1,856 (a bit blurry) that is an amendment to another contract, but appears to pay Geist for “Comments for the session on IP In Canada”, this time for the Intellectual Property Policy Director. This sounds like written work product, n’est-ce pas? Where is it?
Contract number U225000153 for services from 2/22 to 3/30 2001 from Lawbytes, Inc. f/s/o Michael Geist, $3,210 for a “survey of Canadian Law Firms Ecommerce”. What does that project title mean exactly? Where is it?
I would point out that Industry Canada bureaucrats apparently were not required by applicable government rules to disclose these contracts in their public financial reporting. My understanding is that they had to be obtained from the government with no small degree of effort, a process that is supposed to be done in a matter of days but recently seems to be dragging into years when the bureaucrats don’t want to give up the information. But aren’t there rules that they “should” disclose wherever possible?
What does it mean? Not clear, but what certainly seems clear is that Geist—not an intermediary– is getting paid quite a bit of public money not only to create work product that has yet to see the light of day as far as I know, but also to represent the interests of the Industry Canada bureaucrats on the public dole. Of course—this is not to say that the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and the University of Ottawa are also not getting public money for providing Geist’s services. It’s just all so murky.
Why not just disclose all these secrets, if there are any? If you need bureaucratic permission to release your super duper top secret work product, why not publicly ask for it?
I really think that transparency requires that one disclose this use of tens of thousands of dollars of public money—or don’t take it.
See also: A handy chart of the contract matrix
See also: A handy chart of Geist operations
See also: Artist rights are human rights