Canada’s Online News Act (C-18) Has Been An Unmitigated Disaster; Why Does California Still Want To Move Forward With Its Version?
from the who-could-possibly-think-this-is-still-a-good-idea? dept
We’ve written a bunch of stuff about the obvious to anyone who understands the internet problems of Canada’s C-18, now dubbed the Online News Act. The fundamental premise behind it is to break the open internet, as an obviously corrupt forced wealth transfer from one disfavored industry to an industry that helps get politicians elected. Everything about this concept is bad, as we recently discussed with Paul Matzko, who reviewed the history of these types of laws and how they’ve done serious damage to journalism.
To date, Canada’s Online News Act has been a total clusterfuck. Meta has made the reasonable business decision to no longer allow news to be posted to its websites, which has not reduced Meta’s traffic one bit, but has harmed Canadian news sites. As the Canadian news site FreezeNet recently noted, the officials who supported C-18 and insisted that everyone was lying when they pointed out these problems have now, themselves, taken to flat out lying about the law and its impact, falsely claiming that the bill has nothing to do with linking (even as officials have admitted that you only have to pay the tax if the companies allow links). They also seem to be living in a fantasy land, as pointed out by law professor Michael Geist (also a guest on our podcast about this bill):
That’s Geist noting:
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge tells US media conference Bill C-18 is a “win-win” solution. Urges other countries to stand with Canada. As Canadians know, the reality is it has been lose-lose-lose for users, media outlets, and the platforms. Now a model for what not to do.
Ridiculously, politicians in the US still want to move forward with their versions of this disaster. Just last week, there was a very silly conference in DC entirely about pushing these corrupt, open internet-breaking, crony corporate welfare bills. Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge was there, along with Amy Klobuchar, who is pushing a similarly disastrous bill in the US Senate, and California Assembly member Buffy Wicks talking up how her bill (which has been pushed back to next year) will help “level the playing field” for journalists (what does that even mean?).
However, today, the Chamber of Progress, a trade group for internet companies, sent a letter to Wicks, highlighting how (contrary to her claims about bills like this helping journalists), the Online News Act in Canada has been a total and complete disaster for everyone, including journalists.
The letter is chock full of quotes from Canadians highlighting just how bad the law is for Canada, first highlighting how, if they help journalism companies at all, they massively distort the market to just the largest news providers, and screw over the smaller ones:
“This whole experience has me shaken. The reality is I made a huge mistake launching an innovative media business *in Canada*. There was massive government risk I didn’t take seriously ”- Chris Dinn, Founder and Publisher of Torontoverse (News Startup)
“Unfortunately, Bill C-18 misunderstands that crisis, misdiagnosing why news advertising revenue has collapsed, and who is at fault for it. As a result, Bill C-18 ‘fixes’ the problem through a convoluted system that makes news producers increasingly dependent on and subservient to both online platforms and government, threatening their critical role in holding these powerful bodies accountable.” – Openmedia, a community-driven organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance free
It also quotes others highlighting how badly C-18/Online News Act is harming journalism companies, including the CEO of Village Media, noting that the bill is going to take away 15% of its traffic for no reason at all, and with no real benefit. And plenty of others as well:
“Let’s get something straight. Canadian news organizations did not and does not unanimously support Bill C-18. Digital-only news publications like Narcity Media Group, Village Media, and ZoomerMedia Limited wanted nothing to do with this.” – Chuck LaPointe, CEO, Narcity Media
“The act known as Bill C-18 is based on the assumed truth of the unproven allegation that Big Tech companies help themselves to the content produced by news organizations and refuse to share the profits they accrue from that larceny. Always wobbly, that cornerstone assumption has turned out to be pure fantasy.” – Peter Menzies, past vice-chair of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) and is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute
There are many more quotes in the letter as well, including from Sue Gardner at Privacy International, who used to be executive director at Wikimedia Foundation, and head of the CBC’s website (i.e., she understands both the internet and journalism):
Bill C-18—which is really no more than a shakedown of the platforms in order to prop up the dying business models of legacy incumbents—just isn’t good enough. It’s lazy and it’s not in the public interest. Canada deserves better.
There are many, many more quotes from all sorts of experts in that letter, which one hopes that Wicks will actually take seriously. As the letter itself explains, the basic fundamental purpose of a tax is to get less of whatever it is that you are taxing, so it’s bizarre that Wicks would push a bill whose result will be less journalism:
As you know well, typically taxes are reserved for behaviors that policymakers are attempting to discourage, such as alcohol, tobacco, or even sugary beverages. For instance, California’s taxes on sodas have been shown by the Public Health Institute to unequivocally reduce soda consumption.
Similarly, taxing news links – as CJPA does – will undoubtedly lead platforms to shut off news links, as they have in Canada. Journalism at its core is about informing people and broadening the reach of objective truth. Taxing shared links is not only antithetical to this principle, but it discourages the exchange of valuable information.
If passed, CJPA will likely have the same impact in California as Canada’s law has had: Harm to both Californians and small news publishers. Large media organizations who can build their own direct connection to consumers may be fine, but small news publishers will undoubtedly be harmed.
Will Wicks listen to the experts this time? We’ll see. Last year we warned her directly that her AADC bill had serious 1st Amendment problems, and she dismissed our concerns. And yet a court just concluded that her bill infringes on 1st Amendment rights, just as we predicted.
So, maybe, instead of dismissing anyone who criticizes her bills, Wicks should take the time to actually speak to experts who can highlight all the ways that her bill will harm Californians and especially California news organizations like my own?