Last month, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner shocked Canadian online news outlets by stating that “they’re not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only.” The comments sparked instant criticism from news outlets across the country, leading Hepfner to issue a quick apology. In the aftermath of the comments, Hepfner said nothing for weeks at Heritage committee studying Bill C-18. That bill passed third reading yesterday – I posted on the embarrassing legislative review – and Hepfner was back at it. Rather than criticizing online news outlets, this time she targeted the Internet platforms, saying the bill would make it “harder for big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to steal local journalists’ articles and repost them without credit.”
gov’t will always support quality, fact-based and local Canadian journalism in a fair digital marketplace. This bill makes it harder for big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to steal local journalists’ articles and repost them without credit on one of their networks 3/3
— Lisa Hepfner (@lisahepfner) December 14, 2022
Much like the claim about online news outlets, Hepfner’s comments sparked an immediate reaction with people such as Jeff Elgie, the CEO of Village Media replying that “they don’t “steal” our content. We willingly publish it on those platforms” and National Observer columnist Max Fawcett similarly stating “they’re not stealing it. They’re sharing it — you know, extending/expanding its reach.”
The reality is that Hepfner should know that these are just links which include credit and certainly cannot be reasonably described as theft. Indeed, canvassing Hepfner’s own Facebook page reveals that she has regularly posted links to articles from the CBC.ca and Hamilton Spectator (here, here, here, and here).
Does Hepfner believe these are all examples of theft? If so, is she an accomplice to theft by posting the links in the first place? The links each take the reader to the source, generating potential ad revenue for the CBC or Hamilton Spectator. Is that a lack of credit? Ultimately, why does she think that Facebook should compensate those news outlets for the links that she posted? Or consider that she posted the same link on both Facebook and Twitter on the same day. Consistent with the bill she just voted for, why does she think that Facebook is stealing the link, but Twitter is not?
Hepfner’s comment not only provide a troubling example of an MP engaging in misinformation about links who has effectively labelled her own Facebook posts as theft, but strikes at the heart of the problem with Bill C-18. As government officials have acknowledged, the entire foundation of the bill is based on paying for links. In fact, when a proposal to remove links from the bill was raised at committee, government MPs described the change as a loophole and voted against it. In the case of the CBC links, the government confirmed that Hepfner could write about the availability of children’s medications (ie. “Great news! CBC reports a million bottles of pain medication are on the way”) but once she added a link to provide a source for the claim, Bill C-18 is triggered.
These examples highlight the absurdity of a law that treats links as compensable and MPs who equate those links to theft. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with Hepfner or anyone else providing a link to a story on greater availability of children’s medicine. In fact, the CBC story has effectively already been paid for by the public and should be shared widely without the government creating barriers to sharing that information. What is wrong is that ill-informed MPs have voted for Bill C-18, creating a framework in which the government is imposing a mandatory payment scheme for some platforms for hosting links. The bill is now headed to the Senate which will hopefully make the necessary amendments to set Hepfner’s mind at ease that her own Facebook posts do not make her an accomplice to theft.