Even as Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez continues to insist that user content isn’t touched by Bill C-11, the CRTC is sending a different message. In a recent article on how digital creators are contemplating leaving Canada as a result of Bill C-11’s regulation of user content, the CRTC stated:
We strongly encourage interested parties – like TikTok users – to monitor our announcements and participate in public processes. Any decisions on who would have to register and how would only follow those processes, and people should make no assumptions about how the Commission may rule beforehand.
The CRTC and its chair Ian Scott contradicting Rodriguez has been a regular occurrence throughout the Bill C-11 process. Scott has twice confirmed that the CRTC has the power to regulate user content under the bill (despite Rodriguez inaccurately saying otherwise) and has also confirmed that it has the power to encourage platforms to prioritize certain content in a manner that would entail algorithmic manipulation (Rodriguez has denied that algorithms are covered the bill). Now in the same article that Rodriguez’s office says users are not affected by the bill, the CRTC urges those same users to participate in the process that will establish the rules for content registration.
The registration requirements for TikTok and YouTube videos raise a host of issues and concerns.
First, these videos are simply creators engaged in freedom of expression. While they may have a commercial element, establishing a registration element with a regulator could represent a significant barrier to that freedom.
Second, any registration system that captures the millions of TikTok and YouTube videos is likely to be unworkable given the sheer volume involved. Last year, there were less than a thousand new certified Canadian film and television series. By comparison, last year there were over 4,500 Youtube channels alone with over 100,000 subscribers. Between just Youtube, TikTok, and Instagram, there are tens of thousands of creators and millions of videos that might need registration under a system that treats all audio-visual content as a program subject to potential regulation. The article notes that typical registration forms run 30 pages long. Applying a similar regulatory model to user content – as the government’s insists on doing in Bill C-11 – can’t possibly work for creators or the regulator.
Third, the CRTC comments undermine the government’s false claim that “platforms are in, users are out” when it comes to Bill C-11. Rather, the CRTC makes it clear that users need to closely monitor CRTC announcements and participate in the public process involving registration requirements. Even if the CRTC exempts some from registration, they must show up in Gatineau or submit to the policy process to ensure their concerns are heard. According to the CRTC, users are in.
Fourth, it is worth re-emphasizing that livelihoods and careers are at stake here. As Canadian creators contemplate leaving the country as a result of Rodriguez’s bill, he ignores the issue or claims that it doesn’t exist. Yet the prospect of de-prioritized Canadian content is a very real concern and a direct result of the government’s inclusion of user content within the bill. No other country in the world does this, yet that is the Canadian plan with the regulator now urging thousands of Canadian TikTokers to pay closer to attention to broadcast regulation to ensure their perspective is considered. After months of the Heritage Minister ignoring or dismissing their concerns, it appears that some would reluctantly leave the country rather than face a cultural and regulatory policy framework that shows little regard for their cultural contributions.