the (not so) long arm of the tax authorities

The recent case involving the Canada Revenue Agency and eBay took an interesting (and perhaps somewhat ironic) twist on access to information. Without getting into too much detail, the essence of the issue was this: CRA wanted eBay Canada to cough up information on folks known as “Power Sellers” – those that sell a lot of stuff on eBay. Presumably so that CRA could helpfully remind those folks of their tax obligations in the unfortunate event they somehow forgot to report all the income they made in Canada by selling on eBay.

eBay Canada’s response was that the legal entity in Canada did not in fact own that information and it was also not stored in Canada. Rather, the information was owned by some of its affiliates and stored in the US, outside of Canadian jurisdiction. So they couldn’t provide the information, they asserted.

Unfortunately (for eBay) it came out that eBay Canada was able to access the information even though it didn’t own the data. In fact, it had to be able to access that information in order to run its business. So the court ruled in favour of the CRA, with this rather cogent analysis:

The issue as to the reach of section 231.2 when information, though stored electronically outside Canada, is available to and used by those in Canada, must be approached from the point of view of the realities of today’s world. Such information cannot truly be said to “reside” only in one place or be “owned” by only one person. The reality is that the information is readily and instantaneously available to those within the group of eBay entities in a variety of places. It is irrelevant where the electronically-stored information is located or who as among those entities, if any, by agreement or otherwise asserts “ownership” of the information. It is “both here and there” to use the words of Justice Binnie in Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada v. Canadian Ass’n of Internet Providers, [2004] 2 S.C.R. 427 at paragraph 59. It is instructive to review his reasons, for the Court, at paragraphs 57 to 63 in dealing with whether jurisdiction may be exercised in Canada respecting certain Internet communications, including an important reference to Libman v. The Queen, [1985] 2 SCR 178 and the concept of a “real and substantial link”.

The implications in this case are relatively clear. In other cases, it may become less so. For example, what happens with this concept when someone who once stored their docs on their local hard drive starts using Google Docs, only to find out that the authorities in whatever far-flung jurisdiction have ordered an affiliate of Google to disclose that information? Or in the near future when things like Prism get to a point where users aren’t even sure whether their data is here, there, or elsewhere. Interesting times, indeed.

RIAA to AllOfMP3: Show Me the Money!!

Interesting article in TechCrunch about how AllOfMP3 told the RIAA to get lost when it filed its $1,650,000,000,000 (yes, you did read that figure right – its in the trillions) claim in New York against AllOfMP3, even though AllOfMP3 operates out of Russia. From a legal perspective one would typically launch into the complexities of jurisdiction, judicial comity, real and substantial connection, forum non conveniens, blah, blah, blah.

But since this is a personal blog, let’s focus on the fun part, shall we? Let’s focus on the CASH. Woohoo! Fun with numbers. OK, so, let’s see. Accordingly to the CIA World Factbook, the current population of the world is 6,525,170,264. So, if the the damages sought by the RIAA were evenly divided amongst every man, woman and child, each one of them could go out and buy, oh, about twenty CDs, give or take. Wow. That’s a lot of CDs.

Another way to look at it? Its bigger than the GDP of every country in the world except for roughly the top ten. Yes yes, figures are few years old. Fine. Call it 15. You get the point. In any event, around the ballpark GDP for all of Russia. Yes, including the little nesting doll thingies.
From a more personal perspective, the interest on that amount, calculated at the low, low US fed rate for the shockingly painful period of time of two minutes is quite just a bit more than the combined annual incomes of me, my wife, my mom, stepmom, dad, sister, and her husband make in a year.
The point? Just that its a lot of money. A LOT of money. Not exactly googol or a googolplex

(which, as you probably know, is how Google got its name:

The Internet search engine Google was named after this number. Larry Page, one of the founders, was fascinated with mathematics and ‘Googol’, even during high school. They ended up with ‘Google’ due to a spelling mistake on a cheque that investors wrote to the founders.

(from Wikipedia)) but still a lot of money.

Update:  Further news from the INQ – apparently they calcuated damages at US$150,000 per song. Though the INQ correctly observes that AllOfMP3 hasn’t made that much money, damages could also be measured not by what an infringer has made (or an “accounting of profits”) but also the harm that they’ve cost you – so if AllOfMP3 sold each song for a penny, while the RIAA members would have otherwise sold the same song for a buck, multiply that by 150,000 downloads and you have your damages, as that is what they’ve lost out.