Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez travelled to Toronto last week, providing an opportunity for the newly-named minister to meet with cultural groups. With many of the biggest rights holder groups tweeting out the meet and greet (CMPA, Writers Guild, Access Copyright, ACTRA, ACP), the visit sent a signal that the new minister is readily available to hear creator community concerns. While Rodriguez should obviously take the time to meet with all stakeholders, an extensive review of lobbying records related to copyright since the 2015 election reveals that 80 per cent of registered copyright meetings for government officials, including policy makers, political staffers, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, have been with rights holder groups. The behind-the-scenes imbalance runs counter to oft-heard claims regarding the influence of companies such as Google and suggests a diminished voice for education, innovative companies, and users on copyright policy.
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Government Memo Suggests Netflix Outspends Canadian Private Broadcasters on Canadian English Scripted Programming
Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly view of cultural policy shifted gears in recent months with her emphasis on the need for all players to contribute and rhetoric on “no free rides”, a position that could lead to taxes on Internet services. While Netflix has been a popular target for many Canadian cultural organizations, according to documents released under the Access to Information Act, Canadian Heritage officials appear to have evidence that Netflix spends more on Canadian English-language scripted programming than the Canadian private broadcasters. The revelations come in a June 2017 internal memo to Graham Flack, the Canadian Heritage Deputy Minister, which respond to correspondence from BCE’s Mirko Bibic. Bibic met with Flack in April 2017 and was concerned with department comments about Netflix outspending Bell.
Canada’s communications regulator last week reversed decades of policy by recommending that the government implement new regulation and taxation for internet services in order to support the creation of Canadian content. The report on the future of program distribution, which will surely influence the newly established government panel reviewing Canada’s telecommunications and broadcasting laws, envisions new fees attached to virtually anything related to the internet: internet service providers, internet video services, and internet audio services (wherever located) to name a few.
My Globe and Mail op-ed notes with the remarkable popularity of services such as Netflix and YouTube, there is a widely held view that the internet has largely replaced the conventional broadcast system. Industry data suggests the business of broadcasters and broadcast distributors such as cable and satellite companies won’t end anytime soon, but it is undeniable that a growing number of Canadians access broadcast content through the internet.
The government launched its telecom/broadcast review yesterday and the discussion immediately turned to Internet and Netflix taxes. Despite the wide array of issues ranging from net neutrality to the CBC before the newly established panel, for many the focus of its recommendations and the government response will ultimately come down to whether there are new Internet regulations and taxes established to support the creation of Canadian content.
Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains both commented on the issue, suggesting divergent priorities.
Government’s Telecom/Broadcast Review Sets Up Internet Taxes and Regulation As a 2019 Election Issue
The government unveiled the members of its telecom and broadcast review panel this morning setting the stage for Internet access taxes, Netflix regulation, and the imposition of cultural policies on telecommunications to emerge as a 2019 election issue. The new panel will be chaired by Janet Yale, who brings experience from both telecommunications and broadcasting to the role. The remaining six panel members line up nicely as telecom nominees (Hank Intven, my colleague Marina Pavlovic, and Monica Song) or broadcast nominees (Peter Grant, Monique Simard, and Pierre Trudel).
The leaked coverage this morning paints the panel as an effort to redraft broadcasting regulation with Internet companies such as Netflix and Facebook firmly in the government sights. Yet the reality is far more complex with terms of reference that touch on a wide range of telecom and broadcast issues. The Canadian Heritage perspective may be focused on broadcast and Internet regulation (despite repeated assurances that there is no support for new Internet taxes), but the ISED view will be focused on competition, consumer issues, and net neutrality. Last week’s CRTC report provides momentum for Internet taxes and regulation, however, the government has yet to provide much of a response. Indeed, the instructions to the panel reflect the departmental tensions with language that supports both sides and questions that touch on everything from consumer protection to the CBC.