With the Online Streaming Act having passed second reading in the House of Commons and headed for further study at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the government moved swiftly to second reading debate on Bill C-18, the Online News Act. I’ve already written several posts expressing concern about the overbreadth of the bill and its implications. The House of Commons debate is just getting underway with the opening defence of the bill delivered by Chris Bittle, the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, presenting a vision of minimal intervention based on fairness:
The compensation that tech giants would provide to Canadian media through Bill C-18 would represent a giant step in ensuring the viability of strong and independent journalism in Canada, which is essential to our democracy. That is what Bill C-18 would do. It is simple. Tech giants would fairly compensate Canadian journalists when they use their content. That is it: no more, no less. It is a market-based solution that involves minimal government intervention, and I think everyone in this place can agree on that.
The government is relying on two claims here: fair compensation for the use of journalist content and a market-based approach with minimal government intervention. While there might indeed be support for a bill that did that, the Bill C-18 reality is far different. The bill extends well beyond compensation for use, stretching the meaning of “use” far beyond a reasonable standard and creating a level of intervention that simply cannot be fairly described as minimalist. This post examines the notion of fair compensation for Canadian journalists when their content is used with a post on “minimal” intervention to follow.
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The Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) was the subject of hours of debate yesterday in the House of Commons as the government presses to get the bill out of second reading and onto committee for hearings and further study. Setting aside the claims of “censorship” on one side and “you don’t care about creators” on the other, there were some notable takeaways from the debate, including the government digging in on keeping the policy direction to the CRTC secret, acknowledging (perhaps inadvertently) that the bill does regulate user generated content, and several comments from MPs that promise outcomes that are simply not part of the bill.
Leading off during Question Period was a direct question to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about releasing the planned policy directive to the CRTC before the bill receives royal assent so that Canadians can see the details of how the bill is intended to be implemented.
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The House of Commons debate over the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) is likely to continue this week with the government anxious to get the bill out of the House of Commons and into committee for further study and approval. The recent discussion in the House featured Liberal MP MP Mark Gerretsen insisting that the bill does not cover user generated content:
I can assure this member and all Conservatives that nobody is more interested in preserving the content they create in this House than I am: the content that they give me to put out on social media. If I thought for one second that user-generated content would be impacted by this bill, I certainly would not be in favour of it.
I would like to point out to the member that there are several sections in this piece of legislation that explicitly preserve user-generated content: sections 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3(a), 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3(3).
I am curious. This is a simple question. Has the member read the bill, and he has read those sections in particular?
I’m not a Member of Parliament but I have read the bill and those specific sections. The indisputable reality is that the net result of those provisions is that user generated content is covered by the bill. Indeed, the government is gaslighting the public with claims that it does not.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who is hosting a culture summit this week in Ottawa, has said that he is open to modernizing the definition of Canadian content and that he is “open to all kinds of suggestions and ideas.” I’ve devoted many posts to the Cancon definition issue (even creating a Cancon quiz), noting that the current system is a poor proxy for “telling Canadian stories.” This system matters since the government’s Internet regulation policies are ostensibly designed to support Canadian content, but if the existing definitions don’t do that, they cannot reasonably be expected to achieve their objectives.
While I’m supportive of Rodriguez opening the door to reform, I have my doubts the government will make any significant changes to the current system. The challenge is that Cancon policy stands on a shaky foundation that is really three policies in one: an economic policy, a cultural policy, and an intellectual property policy. These three policies are often at odds with one another and used by politicians and lobby groups interchangeably to justify mandated contributions, content regulation, and foreign ownership restrictions. When the data doesn’t support one of the policies, they simply shift the discussion to one of the other policy objectives.
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Last week, the government took another step toward copyright term extension in Canada, inserting extension provisions within Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Budget Implementation Act bill. Despite recommendations from its own copyright review, students, teachers, librarians, and copyright experts to include a registration requirement for the additional 20 years of protection, the government chose to extend term without including protection to mitigate against the harms.
Lucie Guibault is an internationally renowned expert on international copyright law, a Professor of Law and Associate Dean at Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, and the Associate Director of the school’s Law and Technology Institute. Days before the release of the bill, she joined the Law Bytes podcast for a discussion on copyright term extension, its implications and the government’s implementation options.
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