Social Media Regulation, Link Taxes, Copyright Extension, And More: Canada’s Attack On The Internet Has Resumed

from the oh-no,-canada dept

Last year, we wrote about the Canadian government’s efforts to push a bill regulating social media content like broadcast television and, soon after, their work on new “Online Harms” legislation that (among many provisions) would require platforms to report certain content to law enforcement and national intelligence services. These efforts and the government’s general approach to internet issues formed a pattern that led University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist to label it the most anti-internet government in Canadian history. Both efforts stalled out in the face of the 2021 election, but now the Liberal party government, having won re-election and secured a cooperation agreement with the competing New Democratic Party, is resuming and indeed expanding its push for new internet legislation.

As Geist outlines in a Twitter thread, there’s a lot going on. The Online Streaming Act is back as Bill C-11, promoted by the government with some misleading cartoons and predictably unclear and contradictory messaging. The most prominent concern with last year’s version of the Act was that it would open the door to regulating individual social media content creators (think streamers, YouTubers, podcasters, and more) in the same framework as large broadcasting and streaming companies. The new text appears to close this door, with language that exempts such users, but the government’s claim that this means the Act would not apply to them at all is incorrect, as their content could be easily subject to regulation. This is because there are exceptions and exceptions to exceptions about what the Act covers, partly based on the question of whether content is “commercial” which, as we’ve discussed for years, is not so simple a delineation. However you slice it, individual Canadians who create content online are certainly at risk of facing obligations under the act.

Despite this, one Member of Parliament dismissed all such concerns as “YouTube talking points”, while another claimed that the government’s official policy direction to the broadcast regulator, which will not be made public until after the bill becomes law, would assuage any and all concerns on this matter and others. Obviously this isn’t very reassuring, and it contradicts the government’s claims that the text of the bill itself already precludes these problems. As was the case last year, inconsistency abounds.

There will be more to say about Bill C-11 as it works its way through committee, but for now we must move on, because it’s just one piece of the puzzle. As we recently covered, the government has also introduced a bill that would force tech platforms to pay news outlets for linking to their coverage. As we noted, this has been tried several times around the world for years, and it has never worked out — at best (or worst, depending on how you look at it), it enables a few very large publishers and broadcasters to extract a little bit of revenue while only increasing barriers to entry for smaller news outlets. And Canada’s version contains some of the most expansive language possible: it doesn’t specifically cover linking, snippets, or copies, but any action where “access to the news content, or any portion of it, is facilitated by any means”. As Geist explains:

This is certainly designed to cover linking but the broad language almost surely extends beyond linking to a specific article. Indeed, a link to the general home page of the Toronto Star, National Post, Globe and Mail or many other Canadian media sites can be said to facilitate access to news content, particularly since the provision adds that it can be just a “portion of it” and the facilitation can occur “by any means.”

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has made a point of contrasting his bill with the Australian code on the same issue. The Australian code treats three activities as making content available: reproduction of the content, providing an extract of the content (designed to target short blurbs of the stories), or links to the content. While that too is worthy of criticism (the Australian code has actually never been used), it does not cover mere facilitation of access.

Would the Supreme Court uphold a law whose effect could be to limit facilitation of access to news? Moreover, how does the entire Bill C-18 framework fit within the federal government’s jurisdiction? It isn’t broadcast, it isn’t telecommunications, and it isn’t copyright. If the government claims powers over anything involving the Internet then it believes there are no real limits on its jurisdiction.

And there will be lots more to say about that bill as well, but for now we must move on once again, because there are still more issues on the table. First, by delving deep into the government’s 2022 Budget, we learn that copyright terms in Canada are being extended to 70 years after the death of the author, up from 50. This isn’t solely an internet policy issue of course, and it was unfortunately inevitable, as it was a commitment in the Canada-US-Mexico Trade Agreement, but the details and the approach still matter. There are important decisions to be made regarding how this extension is implemented (the parliamentary committee charged with reviewing copyright law recommends that the additional 20 years of protection should require registration by rights holders), but sneaking the change into the budget (something the Prime Minister has pledged not to do with important legislation) seems designed to avoid any real scrutiny or discussion. Details will arrive in a forthcoming Budget Implementation Act, where they will similarly be buried amidst all kinds of unrelated issues.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the Online Harms legislation is waiting in the wings as well. The government recently blew past a self-imposed deadline for introducing a new bill, but Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says it is still in the works with the help of a newly formed panel of experts. Optimistically, we can hope this indicates the government is truly addressing some of the problems with the approach outlined in their technical paper last year, which would establish a massive new regulatory regime with astonishing powers and public complaints procedures that were ripe for abuse, while making no mention of protecting Canadians’ freedom of expression even as it required platforms to report them to law enforcement for their speech — but given this government’s track record, it’s hard to imagine whatever we get won’t still be riddled with dangerous problems and defended with misleading statements.

A lot could happen as each of these efforts develops, but the writing is on the wall: the government is going to try as hard as it can to regulate the hell out of the internet one way or another. With the current ruling party’s position essentially secure until 2025, it’s going to be an interesting (and dangerous) few years for the internet in Canada.

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Comments on “Social Media Regulation, Link Taxes, Copyright Extension, And More: Canada’s Attack On The Internet Has Resumed”

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is an attack on free speech ,eg a blog, or commentator won,t be able to quote from a news article without paying a fee or asking for permission, also treating one person youtube channels the same as a licensed tv station is ridiculous, many podcasts are simply uploaded to youtube as audio files,
this is a great extension of censorship or wiping out youtubers by having to follow complex broadcasting regulations and it will chill free speech on any internet service .

Dan A says:


In terms of how likely they are to pass it depends on the exact letter of the agreement the New Democrat Party made to support the ruling Liberal Party until 2025. If support of major legislation was part of that (and it almost certainly was) then these should pass easily on a simple majority vote.

They are all guaranteed to be challenged in court however and that is where the real questions would lie. While Canada doesn’t have the same anything goes commitment to Free Speech that the US does, there remains a strong legal and historical foundation for Freedom of Expression which the link tax certainly violates. The online harms probably also has a fair likelihood of successful challenge forcing at least modification of the legislation. The copyright thing however is pretty likely to successfully avoid legal challenge.

ECA (profile) says:

those listed

News agencies, seem to be abit related to a major concern.
Which covers Australia, USA, Canada, and Parts of the USA.

Then the reality that WHO is going to get what?
Then Who is this affecting, besides, very few.

The one I really like is the Region code thing. Where the USA and Canada are on the Same region, but the TV corps up in Canada seem not to let USA connections happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

most anti-internet government in Canadian history

I would consider Harper’s minority government (2006-2011) to be a nuisance to the internet, but after the Conservatives obtained a majority they passed the “Copyright Modernization Act” despite opposition from all other parties which was Canada’s equivalent to DMCA, along with their own attempt at “warrantless wiretapping” legislation

Unfortunately the provisions of this law have not been challenged in any court or modified yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Making the most of a bad situation

I saw this comment on Michael Geist’s blog, and think if the Canadian government had any common sense they would entertain some of its elements.

I realize the most we can do is make the best out of a bad situation, but if the Canadian government is serious about preserving user freedoms and the balance of copyright, perhaps we can have some ‘compensation’ for such a travesty (i.e, expanded fair-dealing/fair-use even in the case of digital locks/DRM/TPMs). This was a major controversy of the 2012 ‘modernization’ act and has not been challenged or rectified. Amendments by other functional governments in the recent past have enacted similar positions.

Anonymous Coward says:

While this article mentions 3 of the bills in waiting to be installed into Canadian law, there are actually at least FIVE of them. Here’s the list (so far?)

  • C-11 (Broadcast Act reform)
  • C-18 (Online News Act)
  • C-36 (Restoration of Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, aka Hate Speech regulation, this will be assigned a new number when re-introduced into the HoC)
  • Online Harms legislation
  • Senate Bill S-210 (this is a porn/website-blocking bill)
Drew Wilson (user link) says:

Going to the Courts

I feel like I’ve spent the last several weeks typing my fingers off trying to keep up with all of these developments. In C-11, the exception to users being regulated and the fact that their content is being regulated has been an issue since the bill was known as Bill C-10. In fact, it was a long standing talking point by supporters even though critics kept throwing the removal of Section 4.1 back in their faces every time.

I am not very confident that this will get delayed and, ultimately, shot down in the legislative process. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes passed and made into law.

Where Canadian’s might stand a chance (and I’m actually confident this is where the bill will end its life) is in the courts. While Canada’s Charter is weaker when it comes to freedom of expression, the courts have a history of being VERY reluctant to go along with a government’s plan to suppress Canadian speech. In fact, there is caselaw that says that if a government suppresses speech, it is a violation of freedom of expression.

Bill C-11 does exactly this. It looks at all content on a platform (i.e. YouTube) and tells the platform to prioritize the content they specifically hand-picked. Anyone else that doesn’t qualify as being “Canadian enough” will then get pushed down the recommendation pages. In order for this law to be constitutionally consistent, EVERY video that was made by a Canadian must be promoted along with everyone else. The moment a Canadian’s speech is pushed down is the moment the law is unconstitutional. I strongly suspect that the Canadian Charter is going to get violated within minutes of the government successfully ordering a platform to promote content. From there, it’s pretty much a slam dunk case that the legislation is unconstitutional as far as I can tell. In fact, I am even strongly suspecting that CIPPIC will be one of the parties litigating the government (or at least filing an amicus brief somewhere along the line).

I wasn’t sure about how Bill C-18 could be litigated into the ground based on constitutional grounds, but there is a growing consensus that it can be. There is one thing I don’t understand about the debate around Bill C-18 is how some can conclude that it isn’t a link tax. I mean, it compels platforms to pay a fee for using content such as links. It compels platforms to pay a fee for referencing news. That is basically the definition of a link tax. Yes, the money is supposedly going to the outlets after, but the government is extracting money because the platform is linking. This strikes me as insanely obvious.

Pretty much all three prongs of the Canadian governments war on the Internet represent a threat to the site I write on. C-11, for instance, risks forcing my YouTube video’s down the recommendation lists which could nerf my chances of succeeding on the platform (at least in Canada).

The link tax (C-18) means that Google will likely be charged for linking to my news site, so Google could change how it operates in Canada and my site runs a high risk of being collateral damage somewhere along the line.

The online harms bill is the one that scares me the most. It basically requires content that is flagged to be taken down or addressed within 24 hours. Failure to do so would mean a $10 million fine or 3% of annual turnover, whichever is greater. Anyone running a website in Canada, not just me, is totally fncked if that becomes law. Enjoy a weekend off? Need a short vacation? Have a personal emergency? You could come back to your website after a 48 hour absence to find that you are now personally bankrupted.

As you can imagine, I’m not happy about any of this at all. I guess you can say that I am highly motivated to follow these developments closely – whether I like it or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t understand how anyone can be against Online Safety laws. Be it, Canada, Australia, the UK, etc.

I actually support the UK Safety Online law.

There’s far too much unmoderated content online that children shouldn’t be seeing.

Yes, parents have a responsibility to make sure children don’t see things they shouldn’t, but they can only do so much. This is why it should fall on the government to moderate the Internet. (Parens patriae)

Naughty Autie says:


You’re right, governments should absolutely control what adults can see in the interests of thinking of the children. To that end, no parent should take responsibility for what their children can access by downloading their own content filters, and should just leave everything to kind, paternal Nanny Government. /s

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They probably ignored it because you did.

The same way you ignore the fact that calling something “online safety” doesn’t make it about online safety. Actually attempting a bill for online safety in good faith doesn’t mean one has any clue what they are doing, but granting good faith also means ignoring all the valid criticism bill writers and sponsors ignore, so that’s basically not a real thing. (Any exceptions for the level of ignorance and/or incompetence required for this to be real leaves us in a position where the difference between them and the cynical liers is merely academic.)

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Nah says:

I don’t know who writes headlines here, but Beadon, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think Techdirters see ‘social media regulation’ as a negative.

The core philosophy of Techdirt is ‘Do whatever Big Tech tells you.’ Full stop. They want corporations to police all thought, all the time. (Listen to what Masnick and his cult say, not what they say they say.)

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