Yesterday, Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act, became law after the Senate gave the final approval, clearing nearly 3 years of regulatory hurdles and public contention.
Shortly after, the legislation received royal assent.
The act amends the Canadian Broadcasting Act to require streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify, YouTube and Disney Plus to pay to support Canadian media content, such as films, music and TV shows.
The platforms are also required to clearly promote and recommend Canadian content in English and French, as well as in Indigenous languages.
A similar version of this bill was first introduced in 2020, and then died after Parliament dissolved in Aug. 2021.
In February last year, Bill C-11 was re introduced in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, leading to more than a year of vigorous debate between Liberals and the legislation’s critics.
“Online streaming has changed how we create, discover, and consume our culture, and it’s time we updated our system to reflect that,” said Minister Rodriguez in a release announcing the bill.
Conservatives pummeled the legislation, arguing that “government gatekeepers will now have the power to control which videos, posts, and other content Canadians can see online,” adding that the bill represents a danger to freedom of expression. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, notably, referred to the legislation as “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “censorship law.”
Meanwhile, YouTube launched a public campaign against the bill shortly after it was announced, saying that the platform’s recommendations section is designed for viewers to find videos that they would enjoy watching, but that the new legislation “would force artificial promotion of one content over another, which could hurt views and revenues of creators.”
Minister Rodriguez, however, dismissed these criticisms and insisted that the bill will not affect user-generated content.
“The lengths the government was willing to go to avoid compromise still astonishes me,” said University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist, adding, “That leaves either the prospect that the government wants to retain the power to regulate user content (a real possibility) or that, egged on by a handful of largely Quebec-based culture groups, it was unwilling to admit that it had made a legislative mistake.”
As a matter of fact, the House did reject an amendment that would have added protections for some types of user-generated content such as comedy acts and instructional videos, arguing that it could create loopholes for streaming giants.
Further, critics deemed the powers attributed to the CRTC as a result of the legislation as unclear, broad and potentially overreaching. The bill says that the CRTC “may” make various orders setting out, for example, “the proportion of Canadian programs to be broadcast that shall be original French-language programs.”
“Precisely what this would mean in concrete terms for broadcasters is not yet known. Thus, aspects of this bill may have a sweeping effect on broadcasting in Canada — or a modest effect, depending on future CRTC decisions,” a statement from the Senate of Canada reads.
The CRTC will also have the right to impose financial penalties for violations of the act.
The government is expected to issue a policy directive to the CRTC in the coming months, to clarify the many areas of uncertainty in Bill C-11.
The fact that these clarifications are still needed after years of hearings and appeals is hard to explain, said Geist.
He predicts that, sometime in the future, digital creators will have to campaign for a hands-off regulatory approach, and “the industry will find that the bill generates far less than it expected.”
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