Bill C-18, the Online News Act, has been at the centre of growing firestorm in Canada following reports that Google has begun testing the removal of links to Canadian news services for a small percentage of its users. The issue is headed to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage later today with MPs likely to take turns berating Google executives. If you’re just catching up or don’t understand what the fuss is about, this Law Bytes podcast is for you. While the government tries to spin the bill as a big win for media of all sizes without concerns for the Internet, the reality is far different. But you don’t have to take my word for it. This podcast episode features clips of what Ministers, MPs, Senators, and government officials have already said at committee or in the Senate about the bill.
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The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage opened its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-18 on Friday with some extensive questions about the scope of coverage of the bill and the opportunity to vote on several amendments. The meeting finally provided the chance to ask department officials for their views on key questions, including whether the government believes that services such as Reddit and Twitter are caught by the law (the answer was yes they are digital news intermediaries, but may not be sufficiently dominant to be required to negotiate mandate payments). The most important moment in the hearing came toward the end, when Conservative MP Rachael Thomas moved an amendment to exclude links from the scope of the definition of news content. That approach would still ensure that news publishers are covered for uses of their work such as republication (which is precisely what most would envision) but safeguard the foundation of the free flow of information on the Internet.
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The study into the Online News Act continues this week as the government and Bill C-18 supporters continue to insist that the bill does not involve payment for links. These claims are deceptive and plainly wrong from even a cursory reading of the bill. Simply put, there is no bigger concern with this bill. This post explains why link payments are in, why the government knows they are in, and why the approach creates serious risks to the free flow of information online and freedom of expression in Canada.
Payments for Links: “The Whole Purpose of Why We’re Here”
First, the statute and comments related to the bill leave no doubt that payment for links is absolutely part of the legislative plan. Section 2(2) of the bill defines making news content available as follows:
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