The government has yet to release its final regulations for the Online News Act, but recent comments from News Media Canada seemed to suggest that it is hoping to find common ground with Google, stating that it supports the company’s proposed amendments to Bill C-18 draft regulations. While that may be a long shot – I posted that Google’s call for legislative changes signals that it has arrived at the conclusion that regulations alone cannot fix the foundational flaws in the law – the Canadian Association of Broadcasters has created yet another complication. The lobby group representing private broadcasters such as Bell and Rogers isn’t looking to find a compromise position. Instead, its submission indicates that wants all broadcasters (which given the law would include the CBC) to get an even bigger portion of the potential Bill C-18 revenues by expanding the definition of “journalist” to include everyone from sound and video engineers to researchers and fact checkers. The expansive definition prioritizes many broadcasting jobs, which would mean conventional newspaper services likely would get even less than the current estimate of 25% of revenues.
In fact, the CAB proposes three changes that, if accepted by the government, would significantly increase the likelihood of Google blocking news links in Canada. First, as noted above, it wants a far broader definition of journalist:
A full-time employee or a full-time equivalent employee of a eligible news business or its subcontractors, where the eligible news business adheres to Canadian journalistic codes and standards, that spends at least 75% of their time engaged in the production of original news content, including researching, collecting information, verifying facts, conducting interviews, photographing, filming, recording, writing, editing, video-editing, audio-editing, designing, assembling, and otherwise preparing, delivering and/or presenting original news content.
This matters because the regulations determine relative fairness of agreements between the platforms and different news organizations based on the number of full-time equivalent journalists. This approach already hurts smaller and digital-first publications, but the CAB’s plan would erode their support even further by artificially increasing the number of broadcast employees that would count as journalists for the purposes of the calculation. Google has argued that broadcasters should be excluded altogether and that the law should focus solely on the struggling newspaper sector. If adopted, it would leave even less for the newspaper sector.
Second, the CAB wants to massively increase the platform revenues that are calculated as part of the minimum of 4% of search or social media revenues. In what it calls a “small addition”, it proposes that the revenues also cover all “subsidiaries and/or associates.” In the case of Google, that would presumably expand beyond search revenues to also include Youtube, cloud computing, and other services that have nothing to do with news. The hubris in the money grab by the broadcasters is remarkable and would significantly increase the likelihood of blocked links.
Third, the CAB also wants Apple News and other news aggregators added to the law as it proposes to add that “aggregator of news content” would also potentially be treated as a digital news intermediary alongside social media and search companies. The submission is missing some key elements, however, since while it adds aggregator of news content to the definition, it fails to add the usage rates to determine which news aggregators would be caught by the regulations. The draft regulations feature specific numbers for both search and social media, but the CAB didn’t even bother to include a proposed threshold for news aggregators. As it stands now, any news aggregator could theoretically be subject to its proposal.
The CAB’s poorly drafted proposal may be (rightly) rejected by the government, but it highlights how the Canadian media sector is still betting that Google will pay anything in order to continue linking to Canadian news content. That bet has proven costly in the case of Meta and were the government to follow the CAB’s advice, it seems almost certain to drive the world’s leading search engine out of the Canadian news market. If that happens, no platform will be subject to the law and the CAB’s members will receive a larger portion of nothing.