My post yesterday on Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s Facebook use generated considerable attention as many noted the obvious inconsistencies for a Minister that has described linking to news stories on social media sites without payment as immoral, while at the same time actively linking to news stories on his own Facebook feed. While it is difficult to set aside the uploaded broadcaster videos without referral links (which raise thorny copyright issues for someone who shares responsibility for copyright law) and the thousands spent advertising on Facebook (given that Guilbeault has called for reduced digital ad spending), I think the key takeaway comes from his linking to news stories at a number of leading Canadian sources.
I appeared on the Rob Breakenridge show to discuss the issue yesterday and was asked whether Guilbeault is hypocritical or simply doesn’t understand the issue. I responded that while there may elements of both, his social media conduct is a reminder that linking is a normal, commonly used practice that hundreds of millions of people engage in every day. This is true for Guilbeault and it is true for nearly every member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Characterizing linking without compensation as immoral (whether on the Facebook platform or by the millions who create the links) or caving to lobbying pressure from media companies who encourage linking but then demand licences for those links is the real problem.
Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada understood this nearly ten years ago when it grappled with whether links, in and of itself, constitutes publication within the context of the Crookes v. Newton defamation case. Writing for the majority, Justice Abella stated that “hyperlinks are, in essence, references. By clicking on the link, readers are directed to other sources.” She continued: “making reference to the existence and/or location of content by hyperlink or otherwise, without more, is not publication of that content.”
That is what Guilbeault and Facebook are doing when they point to articles in the Journal de Montreal, La Presse, Global News, and the Toronto Star. Simply put, those links are not publication of the articles. Based on his own use of Facebook, Guilbeault should understand that and recognize that his sharing of articles on the platform is neither immoral nor should it necessitate payment or a licence.