Yesterday, Google shared its main concerns with Bill C-18 with The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications (TRCM) and proposed amendments to the legislation.
The tech giant faced rigorous scrutiny in House of Commons and Senate committee meetings earlier this year, mainly for its decision to temporarily block access to news content in February, as part of a national test.
Unlike Meta, which flat-out threatened to block news content in Canada if the bill were to pass, Google said it is assessing a future course of action, and proposed an alternative funding model to support smaller publishers.
Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president of news, said during a recent Senate committee meeting, “We remain laser-focused on working constructively with senators, the government and the news industry to fix this legislation and make it work the way it’s intended. At minimum, Bill C-18 should include a clear and attainable path to exemption that incentivizes businesses like Google to continue to support the Canadian news ecosystem.”
Heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez, who tabled the bill last summer, will defend his position tomorrow at TRCM meeting, prompting Google to take a more active posture.
These are the four concerns shared by Google, which proposes the following amendments to Bill C-18:
- Legislating payment for links violates open web standards and is inconsistent with international copyright norms, including the Canadian copyright law and European Copyright Directive, Google said. Incentivising digital news intermediaries (DNIs) to pay publishers on a per link basis also benefits those with more content, namely large publishers, benefits more ad-supported business models, and encourages click-baity content.
Google recommends that the bill be revised to align with international norms by using display as a basis for payment and preserving copyright limitations and exceptions.
2. The current exemption criteria in place to incentivize voluntary agreements is incredibly vague and broad, Google said, and requires agreements with outlets even if they are not online, do not produce news content, and do not make their content available to Canadians.
Google recommends clear and attainable numerical guidelines be added to indicate what proportion of the news ecosystem must be compensated to obtain exemption, and to clarify that CRTC can also consider proposals and non-monetary support when evaluating contributions for the purpose of exemption.
3. The bill created inconsistent eligibility criteria, Google said, allowing some businesses to benefit even if they do not produce news content. This incentivises platforms to consider product changes to limit potential exposure to non-news outlets.
It asks for the bill to be revised to ensure only news businesses that produce news and adhere to journalistic standards are eligible. Also, they ask that the government add a process to evaluate Codes of Ethics and a requirement that funding be invested in journalism.
4. Google said that stricter provisions added to the arbitration section of the bill are even more heavily weighted against DNIs and ensure that their offers will be rejected. New fixed timelines for negotiation and dispute resolution were added which will incentivize eligible news businesses (ENBs) to wait out the clock rather than negotiate in good faith. This could also prevent DNIs from providing evidence backing their offer or challenge the eligibility status of an ENB.
Google recommends that the final offer arbitration is changed to standard commercial arbitration (with expedited timelines) and that the CRTC be allowed extended timelines for bargaining, mediation and arbitration. Or, it suggests, revise the arbitration panel so it can assess on evidence and recognize the value exchange between platforms and publishers.