The government has started its defence of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, in the House of Commons with claims that it simply requires compensation for use of news content and adopts a “minimal market intervention” approach. My post yesterday focused on the use claims and this post digs into the bill to see just how minimalist it is. Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez promoted the bill as a market-oriented approach on the day the bill was tabled, leading to an interview with Vassy Kapelos in which she was visibly puzzled at the claim.
Setting aside the fact that many leading Canadian media organizations have already struck news deals with Google and Facebook without government intervention, here is a look at what the government thinks constitutes “minimal market intervention”:
- The government establishes the standards to determine which Internet platforms are required to negotiate agreements or enter into binding arbitration. It can also establish further regulations on the issue. (Section 6)
- The government establishes the standards of what constitutes an eligible news organization for the purposes of requiring the Internet platforms to negotiate agreements or enter into binding arbitration (Section 27) and designates the CRTC to issue orders for who qualifies. The government plans additional regulations for public broadcasters.
- The government establishes the standards to determine whether a private agreement is entitled to an exemption order from binding arbitration and can establish additional regulations (Section 11(1)). The CRTC rules on whether the agreement meets the standard and can establish additional regulations. The standard includes assessments on whether the agreement provides fair compensation, allocates an appropriate portion of compensation to news content, doesn’t allow corporate influence to undermine freedom of expression, contributes to the sustainability of the Canadian news marketplace, ensure benefits for independent local news businesses, and involves a wide range of news outlets (Section 11(1)(b)).
- The CRTC can also issue an interim order in circumstances where it does not believe the criteria for an exemption are met, but expects it will change its opinion within a reasonable period. In other words, it will pressure the parties into changing the agreement (Section 12(1)).
- The CRTC can repeal exemption orders and interim orders (Section 14).
- The government establishes all the steps in the bargaining process and the rules for mandatory arbitration (Section 19).
- The government limits the use of copyright limitations and exceptions in the bargaining process (Section 24).
- The CRTC runs the arbitration process, including establishing qualifications of arbitrators (Section 33), selecting the arbitration panel in some instances (Section 34), and determining if any arbitrators have a conflict of interest (Section 35).
- The government establishes the factors the arbitration panel must consider in making its decision (Section 38).
- The government orders the arbitration panel to reject offers that are not in the public interest or “inconsistent with the purposes of enhancing fairness in the Canadian digital news market” (Section 39).
- The CRTC is required to establish a code of conduct for the bargaining on news content (Section 49(1)). The government establishes multiple factors that must be included (Section 49(3)).
- The CRTC is empowered to demand any information from either platforms or media organizations (Section 53).
- The CRTC is required to appoint an independent auditor to review the impact of the bill on the Canadian digital news marketplace. The government establishes the content that must be included in the report (Section 86).
This is what Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bittle called “a market-based solution that involves minimal government intervention.”