News Media Canada, the lobby group representing the major newspaper publishers in Canada recently launched a new campaign that calls for the creation of a government digital media regulatory agency that would have the power to establish mandated payments by Internet companies merely for linking to news articles. But not everyone in the sector – or even within News Media Canada – agrees with the position.
Jeff Elgie is the CEO and majority shareholder of Village Media, a digital-only media organization that operates local news and community websites throughout Ontario. He joins the Law Bytes podcast this week to talk about operating local news sites in the current environment, why he welcomes referral traffic from companies like Facebook and Google, and why though he respects News Media Canada, he hopes that a new association will emerge that better represents the diversity of news media in Canada.
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Canadian media organizations face difficult challenges in an age of virtually unlimited Internet competition, a dramatic shift toward digital advertising, and an unprecedented global economic and health crisis. That has led media groups to urge the federal government to “take on” Google and Facebook by requiring them to fund local media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has thus far declined to do so. That may spark criticism in some quarters but claims that government-mandated payments from Internet companies will solve the sector’s ills are unconvincing.
My Financial Post op-ed notes that everyone agrees the media sector is more competitive than ever. News organizations such as the New York Times and Washington Post, digital media companies like The Athletic and The Logic, podcasters competing with mainstream media audio offerings and the CBC’s continued digital expansion all offer compelling and competitive news alternatives. This breadth of choice for Canadian news consumers isn’t the fault of Google or Facebook. It is a reflection of low barriers to market entry and a proliferation of services that often do a better job than many established media companies of serving specialized content.
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In the months before the coronavirus outbreak, numerous governments around the world enthusiastically jumped on the “regulate tech” train. Digital tax proposals, content regulation requirements, national digital spending mandates, as well as new privacy and data governance rules were viewed by many as essential to respond to the increasing power and influence of digital giants such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes the pandemic has not only sparked a massive shift in economic and health policy priorities, but it is also likely to reorient our views of the tech sector. Companies that only months ago were regarded as a threat are now integral to the delivery of medical equipment, critical to the continuing function of workplaces in a work-from-home world, and the platforms for online education for millions of students. Billions of people rely on the sector for entertainment, communication with friends and family, and as the gateway to health information.
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Equustek Solutions v. Google Inc., a case that originated in British Columbia, Canada, in 2014, captured international attention as one of the first internet jurisdiction cases to be considered by a nation’s highest court. My CIGI Policy Brief notes that since then, the case has emerged as a cautionary tale about increasingly aggressive legal approaches with respect to the Internet, with significant implications for online governance.
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The escalating battle being waged for new Internet taxes to fund Canadian content does not stop with proposals for new fees on Internet access and online video services. Cultural groups also want to increase the “discoverability” of Canadian content by mandating its inclusion in search results. According to the ACTRA submission to the broadcast and telecom legislative review panel, it has been calling for search engine regulation for the past 20 years:
ACTRA stated during the 1999 CRTC process that Internet search engines would become the gateway for consumers to access the vast array of entertainment and information now available from around the world. We argued then the CRTC should regulate them.
It now argues for mandated inclusion of Canadian content in search results for cultural content under threat of economic sanction:
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