Bill C-18, the Online News Act, received royal assent yesterday, but any celebrations by the groups who lobbied for unprecedented government intervention into the news sector must surely have been tempered by the reality that quickly emerged. Meta confirmed that it would block news sharing from its Facebook and Instagram platforms in Canada, while Google met with Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to see whether a compromise could be reach to avoid a similar outcome. The end result – at least for now – is a legislative mess that leaves no clear winners with Meta downgrading its platforms in Canada, Canadians cut off from their ability to share news on popular social media platforms, Canadian news outlets losing their second most important source of referral traffic, and the government looking to have made an epic miscalculation for having ignored the risks it created by establishing a mandating payments for links system with uncapped liability for the Internet companies.
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As Government Moves to Cut Off Bill C-18 Debate, the Reality is Artificial Intelligence Renders Bill Already Out of Date
The Online News Act, the government’s legislative initiative to make Google and Meta pay hundreds of Canadian media companies for links to their news content, is likely to become law before politicians break for the summer later this week. In fact, despite plans for an evening debate on the bill last night, the government interrupted MP Martin Champoux in mid-speech, cut the debate short, and gave notice that it plans to limit debate altogether this week (the irony that the government is cutting off debate on a bill it claims is essential to holding it to account should not be lost on anyone). The bill will likely be passed by the House by mid-week. Since the government is rejecting two Senate amendments, the bill will go back to the Senate for approval.
The lion’s share of attention on Bill C-18 has thus far focused on the response of the two internet companies, as both have raised the prospect of blocking news content on their platforms if faced with new financial liability for linking. Yet my Globe and Mail op-ed argues that focus ignores a vital new reality that may already render the bill out of date.
The fallout from Bill C-11 has been the subject of several posts this week, including the demands from a wide range of services for exceptions to the law and warnings from streaming services such as PBS and AMC that they may block the Canadian market due to the regulatory burden imposed by the law. While those stories focus on the availability of services and content in Canada, a new Variety report points to another negative impact from the bill: less film and television production in Canada, at least in the short term. Throughout the Bill C-11 debate, there were concerns that the large streamers might pause their productions in Canada given the uncertainty over whether they would “count” for the purposes of new CRTC imposed contribution requirements. In other words, the bill could initially lead to less investment in Canada.
Foreign Internet Streaming Services Warn CRTC Its Bill C-11 Regulations May Lead to Blocked Content or Services in Canada
The Bill C-11 process featured a marked divide on the implications for consumer choice. While Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez claimed it would lead to increased choice (a claim he re-iterated this week in Banff), critics of the bill argued that the opposite was true, namely that the bill would likely lead to fewer services entering the Canadian market or streamers reducing content choices. The net effect – contrary to government claims – would be to impact what Canadians could watch. With the CRTC’s Bill C-11 consultations now underway, foreign streamers are warning that they may block services from Canada or reduce the scope of their content libraries due to the regulatory requirements or burden. This notably includes mainstream streamers such as PBS and niche services such as AMC’s ALLWAYSBLK.
The Fight for Bill C-11 Exemptions Begins: From Adult Content to UFC Fight Pass, Groups Tell CRTC They Want Out
The debate over Bill C-11 was marked by a massive effort from digital creators to urge the government to exclude user content regulation from the scope of the legislation. While Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez misleadingly insisted that user content was not covered by the bill, it took a policy direction to the CRTC (which is still in draft form) after the bill was passed to make that a reality. Many other groups stayed on the sidelines during the Bill C-11 debates, choosing to instead to wait for the CRTC process to make their concerns known. That started this week with the CRTC’s Bill C-11 consultations on registration requirements and potential exemptions (a post on my submission here) with a myriad of well-known streaming services calling on the regulator to establish additional exclusions from Bill C-11’s requirements.