Earlier this year, I posted on the cultural implications of the TPP, noting that the agreement represents a departure from trade deals by creating restrictions on Canadian cultural policy. Assuming services such as Netflix argue that any mandated Cancon contribution is discriminatory if they do not also receive the benefits accorded to established broadcasters or broadcast distributors, the TPP will effectively ban applying Cancon contributions to exempt entities.
Now it appears that the implications of the TPP for Canadian cultural policy are beginning to attract attention. Question period in the House of Commons featured the following exchange this week:
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s digital CanCon consultation is likely to spark calls from the cultural establishment for new levies and taxes to fund the creation of domestic content. The Internet will be the primary target with demands for a Netflix tax along with legislative reforms that would open the door to additional fees on Internet providers.
Yet an unimaginative approach that seeks to regulate the Internet imposes costs that would make Internet access less affordable and create a regulatory environment that runs counter to fundamental principles of freedom of speech and access to information. Joly should reject efforts to recycle stale policies and instead embrace the opportunity to shake up Canadian cultural policy.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the starting point should be a shift in funding for Canadian content creation. The current model, which relies heavily on mandatory contributions from the Canadian broadcasting community, is in decline as revenues from the sector slowly shrink (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently reported that conventional television revenues declined by 2.4 per cent in 2015).
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Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly surprised culture and Internet watchers last week by announcing plans for a comprehensive review of Canadian content policies in a digital world. Joly says everything is on the table including broadcasting regulation, Cancon funding mechanisms, copyright law, the role of the CBC, and the future of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
While there is little doubt that the current framework was established for a different era, rules that have sheltered the industry from foreign competition and transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from consumers to creator groups will not disappear without a fight. Indeed, my weekly technology column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) warns that the most common refrain from the Canadian cultural community is likely to be that the existing rules should be extended to the Internet.
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This week’s lengthy Trouble with the TPP post focused on the likelihood that efforts to require online video providers to pay mandatory Cancon contributions would be challenged under the TPP. While I am not a supporter of extending contributions to companies like Netflix, including such a restriction within a trade agreement is bad policy. Today’s post continues with the culture theme, by examining the risk that other new policy innovations might also be stymied by the TPP.
The Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor recently wrote a column arguing that Canadian cultural production is in crisis and calling for reforms to address the issue. For example, Taylor cited the possibility of tax credits for advertising on websites that meet a Canadian content threshold similar to the policy for television and radio broadcasters. ACTRA has long called for a similar policy, noting the benefits of tax deductions for advertising on Canadian-owned websites that give prominence to Canadian content.
But would such a policy pass muster on the TPP? It’s not totally clear that it would.
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The Trudeau government has thus far said very little about its plans for future digital and copyright policy reform. There were few references in its election platform and the ministerial mandate letters that identify immediate policy priorities did not speak to the issue.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that according to ministerial briefing documents recently released by the government, Canadian Heritage officials have told new minister Mélanie Joly that emerging issues may include targeting the use of virtual private networks and website blocking. The comments can be found in a departmental briefing for Joly on copyright policy, which includes a discussion titled “what’s next” for copyright.
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