The series on why Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is a bad solution in search of a real problem has thus far focused on three issues: the risk to the free flow of information stemming from mandatory compensation for linking, how the bill encourages clickbait and other low quality news given the absence of standards in the definition of “news content”, and the unprecedented government intervention in a sector where independence is essential. Today’s post raises an unlikely issue given that Bill C-18 is the responsibility of Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who also has part responsibility for copyright law in Canada. Buried within the bill is Section 24, a short provision with big copyright implications:
For greater certainty, limitations and exceptions to copyright under the Copyright Act do not limit the scope of the bargaining process.
What does this mean and why is it in the bill?
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The first two posts in the series on why Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is a bad solution in search of a real problem focused on the risk to the free flow of information stemming from mandatory compensation for linking and how the bill encourages clickbait and other low quality news given the absence of standards in the definition of “news content.” The series continues by highlighting the remarkable extent to which the government and its regulator (the CRTC) intervene in the news sector, an approach that creates significant risks to an independent press.
The government appears to recognize the risks that come from intervention and have therefore sought to assuage concerns by describing the bill as “a market-based solution that involves minimal government intervention.” Yet the reality is Bill C-18 features an unprecedented level of government intervention into the market in the news sector. Just how extensive is the government’s involvement? Some of the provisions that delegate decision-making powers to the government or CRTC include:
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The first post in this series on Bill C-18, the Online News Act, focused on the problematic approach to what constitutes “making news content available”, as it encompasses everything from indexing to linking to news stories without reproducing the actual text. The approach raises serious risks to the free flow of information online and expands the law far beyond reasonable expectations of what “use” of news articles might mean. But the problems with expansive definitions in the bill are not limited to the “making available” provision. Bill C-18’s definitions for “news content”, “news business”, and “news outlet” are also exceptionally broad, raising their own series of concerns.
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Since its introduction in early April, the Online News Act (Bill C-18) has flown below the public’s radar screen. There have been a few op-eds and considerable coverage on my blog (I’ve posted here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and released podcasts on the bill with Sue Gardner and independent digital media publishers Farhan Mohamed and Jeff Elgie) but Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has largely been content to rush the bill through the parliamentary process with little debate. In fact, after Rodriguez left the CBC’s Vassy Kapelos visibly puzzled, he has said little about it. He has never given a speech on the bill in the House of Commons and the government successfully cut off debate after allocating just two hours to it. Bill C-18 is now headed to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with hearings that could start as soon as the end of this week.
This post marks the first in a lengthy series that explain why the bill is a bad solution to a real problem. The series starts with posts that examine some of the specifics in the bill, including problematic definitions for making available news, news businesses, and even the definition of news itself. Once I’ve laid the foundation, the series will highlight some of the implications of the bill, including breaches of Canada’s international trade, treaty, and constitutional obligations; the risk it will hamper efforts to combat misinformation; and the plethora of market problems it would create related to government interference, an independent press, competition, and our dependence on big tech.
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The controversy over the CRTC’s Radio-Canada decision involving its repeated use of the N-word has continued to grow with Quebec-based politicians – including the governing CAQ and the Liberal Party of Quebec – warning of censorship and calling on Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to reverse the CRTC decision. The outpouring has left me struggling to reconcile the seeming hypocrisy of politicians who warn about the dangers of CRTC speech regulation even as they have been the most ardent supporters of Bill C-11, eager to pass resolutions that call on the federal government to enact legislation empowering the CRTC to regulate user content.
My initial take in a tweet was that this reflects a demand to protect their own speech even as there is a willingness to sacrifice the speech of others in return for a Youtube payoff. On reflection, however, I think there is more at play. Before explaining, it bears mentioning that months of assurances during the Bill C-11 hearings that the CRTC does not engage in speech regulation were patently false.
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