Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has energetically crossed the country emphasizing the economic benefits of the cultural industries. Yet as the government conducts a national consultation on Canadian content in the digital world, my Globe and Mail tech law column notes that new digital taxes may ultimately play a starring role.
Joly has opened the door to an overhaul of Canadian cultural policy, but the million dollar – or perhaps billion dollar – question is how to pay for it. The industry has resisted policies that might increase foreign-backed productions, arguing that lowering qualifying requirements for the number of Canadians involved will lead to lost jobs and less distinctive content. Their hopes appear to rest primarily with the possibility of a series of new digital taxes. While new taxes are never popular, the possibilities include the proverbial good, bad, and ugly.
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Last week, I appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of its study on the future of media. The committee has heard from dozens of witnesses and one of the surprising themes has been the emphasis on copyright reform as a potential solution to the newspaper industry’s woes. My opening remarks, which are posted below, warn against the reforms, including the prospect of new taxes on Internet services or linking as a source of revenue for the industry. Instead, I point to several potential policies including an ad-free online CBC, sales taxes for digital services, and non-profit funding models for investigative journalism.
The Q & A that followed with me focused primarily on copyright law. The copyright discussion stems from the fact that several earlier witnesses implausibly claimed that it would help solve the problems facing news organizations. For example, Bob Cox of the Canadian Newspaper Association told the committee:
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I appeared last week before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy & Ethics as part of the committee’s review of the Privacy Act. My opening remarks highlighted several longstanding concerns with the legislation and then turned to three broader issues: Bill C-51′s information sharing provisions, transparency reporting, and the revival of lawful access issues.
My full prepared opening remarks are posted below:
Appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy & Ethics, September 29, 2016
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The controversial issue of lawful access rules, which address questions of police use of Internet subscriber information and interception capabilities at Canadian telecom companies, has long been played down by Canadian governments. When policy proposals first emerged in the early 2000s, the Liberal government focused on the anti-terrorism and anti-spam benefits. Subsequent Conservative proposals promoted the ability to combat child pornography, and most recently, cyber-bullying.
Yet when the Conservatives passed lawful access legislation in late 2014, it seemed that more than a decade of debate had delivered a typical Canadian compromise. The new legislation eliminated liability concerns for Internet providers who voluntarily disclose basic subscriber information and created a series of new police powers to require preservation and access to digital data.
Notwithstanding the legislative resolution and renewed legal certainty, my new tech law column at the Globe and Mail notes that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has quietly revived the lawful access debate with a public consultation that raises the prospect of new rules that would effectively scrap the 2014 compromise. Ironically, the focus this time is the public demand for amendments to Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ anti-terrorism law that sparked widespread criticism and calls for reform during last year’s election campaign.
In other words, the Canadian privacy balance is being placed at risk by a policy initiative that purports to fix privacy. Read the full column here.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly launched her review of CanCon rules last spring by stating that “everything is on the table.” The pre-consultation revealed a sharp divide between industry and the public with industry stakeholders emphasizing more public and government support and the public focusing on efforts to promote Canadian content.
This week I obtained government documents under the Access to Information Act that provide some interesting insights in the behind-the-scenes process that brought a major government consultation from concept to launch in a matter of weeks. The roughly thousand pages show Canadian Heritage officials worked long hours to develop timelines, consultation documents, communications plans, and advisory committees. Given the time constraints, it is an impressive effort.
The documents also highlight internal thinking on several major issues, including Netflix regulation, the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV rulings, and copyright.
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