Bill C-18, the Online News Act, represents a massive win for News Media Canada, the lobbying arm for news organizations such as Postmedia and Torstar. After obtaining hundreds of millions in taxpayer support with programs such as the Local Journalism Initiative (made permanent in Budget 2022), the Journalism Labour Tax Credit, and the Digital Subscription Tax Credit, the organization set its sights on the Internet platforms. In fact, not content with obtaining payments for reproduction of news content, it lobbied for a far broader approach that even includes payment for links or merely “facilitating access” to news content. The bill has already led to spiked op-eds critical of the government in the papers represented by News Media Canada, with critical commentary an outlier.
So what convinced the government to introduce a bill that adopts such an extreme approach? A look at the registered lobbyist meetings just since the election last September provides a hint. There have been 52 registered meetings with Ministers, MPs, and senior officials or roughly one meeting every four days since election day nearly 8 months ago. This represents an astonishing level of access and may help explain why the concerns of independent media and the broader public are missing from the bill.
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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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Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage yesterday, facing questions from MPs on a range of digital culture issues. In light of reports this week on lobbying efforts by Internet companies, Joly was asked about meetings with companies such as Google. Joly defended her interactions by noting that the meetings included discussions on Canadian content and emphasizing that she has had hundreds of meetings with cultural groups. That isn’t particularly surprising, but what should raise concerns was her suggestion that the groups rarely register the meetings in the lobbyist registry as required by law.
Joly told the committee:
the reality is that it’s very rare that the cultural sector registers with lobbyists. I’ve had many more contacts with the cultural sector. I’ve had tens, hundreds of meetings with them throughout the country, in French or in English…I’ve had many more meetings with them than the platforms.
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The government’s unexpected budget decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings came as a surprise to most copyright watchers, but not the music industry lobby. Music Canada (formerly the Canadian Recording Industry Association) was ready within minutes with a press release, backgrounder, and quotes from musicians that were previously critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. How did the industry seemingly know this was coming?
The monthly lobbyist communications reports tell the story as beginning last fall, Music Canada registered lobbyist David Dyer met almost monthly with Patrick Rogers, the Director of Policy for Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover. The meetings began in November at roughly the same time as Universal Music began expressing concern about the Canadian distribution of public domain Beatles records. The lobbyist registry lists meetings on November 10, November 26, December 5, February 17, and March 18. In addition, there was a meeting with James Maunder, Chief of Staff to Industry Minister James Moore on November 28th, though it is clear that Canadian Heritage had the lead on the issue.
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I appeared on the Sunlight Foundation Podcast to discuss Canadian Lobbying Disclosure. Although lobbying disclosure is not one of my main areas of interest, I am interested in access to information and open data.
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