Controversy over federal online streaming legislation looms again

Critics say the wording of Bill C-11 is much broader than the use cases outlined by the heritage minister and could bring a wide range of online content under the CRTC’s regulatory authority

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As the Liberal government’s Online Streaming Act progresses through the House of Commons, controversy over the legislation is resurfacing, a year after the previous version of the bill died on the Order Paper.

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The Conservatives attacked the bill in the House of Commons this week, accusing the Liberals of wanting to choose what Canadians watch online and allowing the CRTC to regulate “large swaths” of social media content. Bill C-11, like its predecessor C-10, creates the CRTC to regulate streaming platforms.

After Bill C-11 was introduced in February, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez argued that the government had listened to concerns about the regulation of user-generated content that had erupted over the previous version of the bill. of law, and that he had “corrected” them.

Rodriguez said at the time that the bill only targets “big online broadcasters” and that the CRTC will have a specific “sandbox” in which to regulate them. He said C-11 is aimed at capturing music from platforms such as YouTube and would be “mainly for the big labels” – not aimed at online creators, even successful ones who could make a lot of money money and have millions of subscribers.

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“All we’re asking for is a bill that reflects what the minister says,” said Scott Benzie, executive director of advocacy group Digital First Canada. This “sandbox”, he said, is more of a “Sahara desert”.

The problem, critics say, is that the bill’s language is much broader than the use cases described by Rodriguez, and could bring a wide range of online content under the CRTC’s regulatory authority.

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The details of how the CRTC will use its new powers will be set out in new policy direction the government will give to the regulator. During Question Period on Wednesday, Conservative Heritage Critic John Nater asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if he would commit to releasing the document before the House votes on the bill. C-11. The government provided policy direction to the CRTC for the latest version of the bill.

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“The government is asking an entity that doesn’t have the ability or jurisdiction to regulate large swathes of the internet, but the government won’t disclose how it will be asked to do so,” Nater said. “Canadians are rightly concerned about the impact this will have on what they see and hear online.”

In his responses, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of standing “against the arts community and creators.” He said the CRTC “has always made sure that we promote Canadian creators creating Canadian content” and that the bill aims to continue the same “in a digital world”.

The bill states that any content that does not generate revenue is exempt, but leaves it up to the CRTC to decide which types of revenue-generating content will be regulated, using three government-established criteria — the degree to which it is monetized, if carried by an entity licensed or registered with the CRTC and if it has a “unique identifier under an international standards system”.

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Benzie said in an interview that these categories are so broad — for example, covering both direct and indirect income — that they could capture virtually “the entirety of the internet.”

“Direct or indirect income can literally be anything. Even if a piece of content itself doesn’t generate revenue for the creator, it generates revenue for someone,” he said. The music used in TikTok videos, for example, has an internationally recognized code, he said. “It will catch anything with the music, literally.”

One way to fix the bill, he said, is to include “guardrails” and narrow the scope of the wording so that the wording of the bill reflects the intent of the bill and what Rodriguez said the bill aims to do.

The problem with relying on policy guidance for these details, Benzie said, is that it’s not enshrined in law like the legislation is, because a future government could issue another directive to the CRTC.

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Benzie added that his other concern with the bill relates to the discoverability provisions, which would allow the CRTC to force online platforms to promote Canadian content. Benzie said such a move would hurt Canadian creators, due to how the algorithms of many online platforms work. If content is shown to Canadians who aren’t interested and they don’t watch or interact with it, those creators will end up being penalized by the algorithm, he said.

After the bill passed second reading in the House of Commons on Thursday, it now heads to the heritage committee, where MPs will hear from experts, supporters and critics. The committee is where government and opposition members can suggest amendments to the bill.

The Tories have previously promised to come up with “reasonable” amendments, while Rodriguez has said he is ready to make changes to the bill, including to make it “clearer” that only big online streamers are being targeted.

A spokesperson for his office reiterated that sentiment on Thursday. “Bill C-11 will now go to committee for further analysis by MPs, experts and other witnesses,” Rodriguez’s office said in a statement. “We look forward to these discussions and are open to ways to strengthen this bill, to better support Canadian artists and creators.

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