Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault recently suggested that the government’s support for news media should be replaced by copyright rules that would open the door to payments from internet companies such as Google and Facebook. Guilbeault indicated that a legislative package was being prepared for the fall that would include a press publishers’ right is that is commonly referred to as an internet link tax.
Julia Reda is a former Member of the European Parliament who for several years was the most active and visible politician in Europe when it came to copyright reform. That multi-year debate ultimately led to the adoption of a link tax and upload filters with a European directive. She joins me on the podcast to talk about that experience, why she believes a link tax harms freedom of expression and diversity of media, and what lessons Canada should draw from the European experience.
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Last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault called into question his own government’s policies on supporting news media, suggesting that those programs should be replaced by copyright rules that would open the door to payments from internet companies such as Google and Facebook. Mr. Guilbeault indicated that a legislative package was being prepared for the fall that would include new powers for Canada’s communications regulator and what are commonly referred to as Netflix taxes and internet linking taxes.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes the government’s support for new internet taxes should not come as a surprise. There were strong signals that the spring budget – postponed indefinitely due to the current public health crisis – was going to include expanding sales taxes to capture digital sales such as Netflix or Spotify subscriptions.
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The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has ruled that a news broadcast that jokingly criticized Canadian content violates the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics. The complaint arose from a December 2019 broadcast on Toronto radio station CFRB. David McKee used his lead-in to a report on a possible Netflix tax to state “the libraries of streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ could soon have more of a Canadian flavour that nobody watches or wants if the federal government gets its way.”
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Canadian media organizations face difficult challenges in an age of virtually unlimited Internet competition, a dramatic shift toward digital advertising, and an unprecedented global economic and health crisis. That has led media groups to urge the federal government to “take on” Google and Facebook by requiring them to fund local media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has thus far declined to do so. That may spark criticism in some quarters but claims that government-mandated payments from Internet companies will solve the sector’s ills are unconvincing.
My Financial Post op-ed notes that everyone agrees the media sector is more competitive than ever. News organizations such as the New York Times and Washington Post, digital media companies like The Athletic and The Logic, podcasters competing with mainstream media audio offerings and the CBC’s continued digital expansion all offer compelling and competitive news alternatives. This breadth of choice for Canadian news consumers isn’t the fault of Google or Facebook. It is a reflection of low barriers to market entry and a proliferation of services that often do a better job than many established media companies of serving specialized content.
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In the months before the coronavirus outbreak, numerous governments around the world enthusiastically jumped on the “regulate tech” train. Digital tax proposals, content regulation requirements, national digital spending mandates, as well as new privacy and data governance rules were viewed by many as essential to respond to the increasing power and influence of digital giants such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes the pandemic has not only sparked a massive shift in economic and health policy priorities, but it is also likely to reorient our views of the tech sector. Companies that only months ago were regarded as a threat are now integral to the delivery of medical equipment, critical to the continuing function of workplaces in a work-from-home world, and the platforms for online education for millions of students. Billions of people rely on the sector for entertainment, communication with friends and family, and as the gateway to health information.
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