The Law Bytes podcast is back after a brief break, and with it, talk about the Online News Act or Bill C-18. All news – both Canadian and foreign – is blocked on Facebook and Instagram in response to Bill C-18 and the reports suggest that the move has had no real impact in use of the platform. Where it has had an impact, however, is on news outlets themselves, many of whom have experienced significant reductions in referral traffic, which invariably leads to less revenues.
Much of the attention is on the big players, but the problem is particularly acute for smaller, independent news outlets. Chris Dinn is the founder and publisher of Torontoverse, a new Toronto news outlet that combines news with mapping technologies to create a different way of engaging with the news. The year-old site was growing quickly, but recently announced that it was slowing down in response to Bill C-18’s impact. Chris joins the podcast to talk about the business, the effect of the government legislation, and what he thinks should come next.
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The Online News Act has quickly emerged as one of the government’s biggest policy failures with Canadian news outlets facing lost traffic, lost revenues, and lost competition. The source of the Bill C-18 failure was the government’s seeming inability or unwillingness to game plan the potential outcomes of the law, rejecting criticisms and calls for a “Plan B” by instead relying on the hope that the policy measures would simply unfold as they did in Australia. That obviously has not happened, leading to the growing realization that Meta’s blocking of news links, which has already gone on far longer than it did in Australia, is not a bluff. With Meta out of news in Canada, the government is hoping to salvage the law by convincing Google to pay at least $172 million for news links. Unfortunately, the draft regulations released by Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge suffer from the same failures as the law, namely an inability to game plan the potential outcomes of the regulations.
I’ve already written about how the draft regulations will do little to ensure more spending on journalism and how they are stacked against small, independent and digital first news outlets. But as I read analysis that suggests that Google got what it wanted – a cap on liability – I fear that the regulations are badly misunderstood. In fact, if you assess the competing policy objectives in the regulations and consider how they might actually play out, it becomes hard to avoid the conclusion that they don’t work and may well lead Google to walk away from news in Canada.
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The Federal Court has approved a consent order requiring Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault to unblock Rebel News publisher Ezra Levant on Twitter. The order stems from a 2021 lawsuit filed by Levant which argued that blocking “violated the Applicants’ constitutional rights under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in blocking access to official governmental Twitter accounts, and thereby limiting the Applicants’ ability to, inter alia, access and communicate important information, participate in public debate, and express views on matters of public concern.” The order also includes a $20,000 cost award to Levant. Regardless of your views of either Levant or Guilbeault, the principle that government ministers should not block access to their feeds given the implications for freedom of expression is an important one.
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Last month, the Canadian Federation of Library Associations released a much-needed statement that sought to counter the ongoing misinformation campaign from copyright lobby groups regarding the state of Canadian copyright and the extensive licensing by libraries and educational institutions. I had no involvement whatsoever with the statement, but was happy to tweet it out and was grateful for the effort to set the record straight on what has been a relentless misinformation campaign that ignores the foundational principles of copyright law. Lobby groups have for years tried to convince the government that 2012 copyright reforms are to blame for the diminished value of the Access Copyright licence that led Canadian educational institutions to seek other alternatives, most notably better licensing options that offer greater flexibility, access to materials, and usage rights. This is false, and when the CFLA dared to call it out, those same groups then expressed their “profound disappointment” in the library association.
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