“It really surprises me that Google has decided that they would rather prevent Canadians from accessing news than actually paying journalists for the work they do. I think that’s a terrible mistake and I know that Canadians expect journalists to be well paid for the work they do.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waded into Bill C-18 and Google removing links to Canadian news articles in search results as part of a test for a small percentage of users yesterday with the quote cited above. At a press conference in Toronto, Trudeau went out of his way to volunteer that he is surprised by Google’s actions, which he thinks is a “terrible mistake.” If Trudeau was surprised, then he has not been paying attention, as the possibility of removing links to news articles in search results or social media has been an obvious consequence of a bill that mandates payments for links. But his surprise isn’t what is important or requires comment. What does is that Trudeau’s comments mislead on several critical issues with Bill C-18.
First, there are obviously a range of perspectives on Google’s actions. In my view, greater transparency is needed when search results are intentionally removed, but I support the underlying principle of opposing mandated payments for links and indexing, which represents an enormous threat to the free flow of information online. However, regardless of your view, it cannot reasonably be said that Google is preventing Canadians from accessing news. Google does not have the power to prevent anyone from accessing third party websites since the removal of links from search results does not remove or block the site itself nor prevent anyone from accessing it directly. Words matter. It is not just misleading to claim that Google is preventing Canadians from accessing news, it is dangerous. There are many countries that engage in content blocking or other measures to actually prevent access and the Prime Minister should not be conflating removal of search results with website blocking.
Second, Trudeau’s claim that Bill C-18 about payments to journalists isn’t well reflected in the bill itself. As a result of amendments at the Canadian Heritage committee, the definition of eligible news businesses was expanded to include hundreds of community, campus or indigenous broadcasters licensed by the CRTC. Unlike the standards established under the Income Tax Act which govern Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations (QCJO) and which feature multiple criteria to ensure that only organizations producing journalism are covered, Bill C-18 applies to broadcasters that may not face any requirements to produce news. In other words, the bill would require payments to hundreds of broadcasters without any actual journalism or original news content. That isn’t funding journalism or journalists. It is creating a subsidy program that only requires a CRTC-issued licence.
Third, Bill C-18 is not about payment for the reproduction of journalists’ work. It is about payment for links, indexing and any other mechanism that is seen to “facilitate access” to news. I’ve identified many concerns with the bill (including press independence concerns, potential violations of Canada’s international copyright obligations, harm to the competitiveness of independent media, and the prospect of trade retaliation by the United States), but none are more important than the harm to freedom of expression and the free flow of information online that arise from mandated payments for links.
That the government believes that Google and Facebook should pay hundreds of millions of dollars for links – as much as 35% of all news expenditures of virtually every television broadcaster, radio station, and news outlet in Canada according to the bill’s sponsor in the Senate – would not only render Canadian media entirely dependent on two foreign companies for their survival, but would create a framework that threatens the foundational frameworks for how information flows online, including the freedom to link to information and the benefits of indexing that information so that it can be more easily found. For more than 25 years, the world has benefited from these principles, but if Bill C-18 passes in its current form, our ability to find and share information will face a dizzying array of demands that threaten the entire information ecosystem.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, MPs, and Senators keep insisting that Canada won’t be intimidated by Google, but if there are any threats happening, they are coming from Bill C-18 and from a Prime Minister who is seeking to garner support for a bill that simply does not do what he says it does. The government presents Google and Facebook with a choice in Bill C-18: pay for links to Canadian news articles or stop linking to them. Stopping linking would obviously come at great cost to everyone: Google would face a loss of trust and heightened competition from other search engines that do not face Bill C-18 obligations, Canadian news sites would lose valuable referral traffic, and Canadians would experience a degraded version of services they rely upon. That Google is considering not linking despite those costs is consistent with the framework established in Bill C-18 and rightly takes a stand against the bill’s threat to the free flow of information online.
Once again, Trudeau demonstrates that he is as narcissistic as Trump, dumber than Dubya, and as shallow as Paris Hilton
To say Trudeau is anything like Trump is just dumb. Do you even know the meaning of narcissistic?
I do and Trudeau is a narcissist. He is a different type of narcissist than Trump as he views himself as morally superior. You just have to look at how he has responded to his numerous scandals.
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Trudeau is not dumb – and that makes this response rather worse than if he was dumb.
There is a possibility he is misinformed – but in his job, that is his problem to fix.
Finally – and this seems the most likely case, which makes it even more problematic – he may actually know better, but says this anyway.
It’s generally considered good political strategy to stay on message – but at some point “just following orders” is going to be more of a problem than going off message.
At the same time, the other party leaders are pretty much doing the same thing – keeping on message even when it verges towards nonsense.But if none of them are going to get called out on this, then we will get what we are seeing here – a race to the bottom of the debate.
Actually I figured that the PM simply thought that Google, etc, would simply take it while saying nothing, passing the cost onto their customers. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Google, etc, started charging a finder’s fee for the referral regardless of how ends up going. After all, the media companies are charging for the advertising that they put on their page.
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It’s unbelievable just how far C-18 supporters are willing to go with their lies on this. They lied that platforms are “stealing” news content. That was demonstrated spectacularly when they freaked out at the Google test. Now, they lied about how Google is somehow blocking Canadian’s from accessing the news. Google does not and never had that power to begin with.
Google is not the internet.
Facebook is not the internet.
This is not rocket science!
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Thank you sir for the very important post.
I saw Trudeau’s news conference where he made the statement and was immediately annoyed with it and angry about how much he had twisted the story against all logic. He wants to force an outcome and wants to have no consequences for those actions other than what he wants.
I’m wondering whether China/CCCP is influencing this bill, or is instrumental in its formation. Suppressing media is something China likes to do, and they’ve complained about Canadian media in the past.
This is dangerous, and once it’s in place, there won’t be much anyone can do. What effect will it have on getting information about candidates in an election, for instance? What effect will it have on the information currently coming out about CCCP foreign influence on Cdn elections?
I wonder if Trudeau is just treading water until this bill is passed, and then he can relax, because China will be happy that nobody can find anything out about them any more