Critics say if the Bill C-10 amendment is really meant to control the online posting of unlicensed music, TV and movies, a copyright approach would be the proper mechanismAuthor of the article:
The Liberal-dominated House of Commons Heritage committee has cleared the way for the federal government to regulate video content on internet social media, such as YouTube, the same way it regulates national broadcasting, under a new amendment made to a bill updating the Broadcasting Act.
Critics denounced the move to give the country’s broadcast regulator the ability to oversee user-generated content, and said it amounted to an attack on the free expression of Canadians, particularly in light of Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s recent plans to give Ottawa power to order take-downs of online content it deems objectionable.
“Granting a government agency authority over legal user generated content — particularly when backed up by the government’s musings about taking down websites — doesn’t just infringe on free expression, it constitutes a full-blown assault upon it and, through it, the foundations of democracy,” said Peter Menzies, a former commissioner of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.
“It’s difficult to contemplate the levels of moral hubris, incompetence or both that would lead people to believe such an infringement of rights is justifiable,” said Menzies.
Last Friday afternoon, MPs on the committee made changes to the government’s bill updating the Broadcasting Act. Bill C-10 was introduced by Guilbeault in November, to clarify the CRTC’s ability to regulate TV and movie streaming services, such as Netflix. The bill doesn’t include details of what that regulation will look like, but once the bill passes the government plans to instruct the CRTC to draft rules requiring online services to contribute to and promote Canadian content.
When the Liberal government introduced C-10, user-generated content, such as an individual Canadian posting a YouTube video or a TikTok clip, was originally exempted. But that exclusion for user content was removed by committee MPs on Friday.
A spokesperson for Guilbeault said the government’s intent behind removing the clause was primarily to allow for better regulation of music streaming on social media platforms, such as playlists of songs posted online. Guilbeault’s press secretary, Camille Gagné-Raynauld, said C-10 “specifically targets professional series, films, and music,” and said there are safeguards in place, including that individual Canadians wouldn’t be considered broadcasters under the legislation.
University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist said even if the bill means Canadian users won’t have to report to the CRTC themselves, their online videos on platforms like TikTok or YouTube “would be treated as a program subject to Canada’s broadcast regulator.”
That is an infringement of Canadians’ rights, Geist said. “In a free, democratic society we don’t subject basic speech to regulation in this way. Of course there are limits to what people can say, but the idea that a broadcast regulator has any role to play in basic speech is, I think, anathema to free and democratic society where freedom of expression is viewed as one of the foundational freedoms.”
The bill is only one piece of a multi-pronged effort by the Liberal government to impose new rules on Big Tech and other online companies. Other Liberal initiatives include a separate bill targeting online hate content set to be introduced shortly. Guilbeault has said the government would consider blocking content as a last-resort option. The government has also proposed blocking websites hosting copyright-infringing content as part of another consultation on updating copyright law.
But critics say that if the government’s amendment to Bill C-10 is really meant to control the online posting of unlicensed music, TV and movies, a copyright approach would be the proper mechanism.
“That is a copyright law issue,” said Emily Laidlaw, Canada research chair in cybersecurity law at the University of Calgary. The way C-10 is worded is also overly broad, she said, because it captures any user-generated “programs.”
If the intent is to use the Broadcasting Act to protect copyrights owned by corporate studios, Geist said “it’s disappointing to see the government prioritize lobbying pressure from the music industry over the free-speech interests of millions of Canadians.”
Conservative MP and heritage critic Alain Rayes put out a statement Monday criticizing the amendment, saying his party would “continue to stand up for the freedoms of Canadians who post their content online and oppose C-10 at every stage of the legislative process.”
Even if the CRTC doesn’t follow through with its new powers and chooses not to implement any regulations covering user-generated content, the fact that the law would now enable the regulator to do so is problematic, said Menzies.
“They would still hold the hammer of legislative power over everyone’s head and that would intimidate free expression. Even without conditions, people would still be speaking with the CRTC’s permission,” Menzies said.
Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms programs at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that even if the CRTC isn’t currently interested in putting specific regulations on user-generated content in place, the legislation creates the potential for Ottawa to do so later.
“With legislation when you open up a regulatory door, even if you don’t step though it, you’ve opened up that door for any future governments to step through,” she said.