Yesterday, Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez released a “Backgrounder” on the controversial Bill C-18, proposing regulations that appear to address some of the concerns raised by Google and Meta.
These regulations come as the first significant overture from the government, a week after it promised to stand firmly against the ‘bullying’ of the tech giants and suspended advertising on Facebook.
The bill, which would force tech giants to compensate news organizations for linking to their content, received Royal Assent on Jun. 22, following which both Google and Meta announced their exits.
Google has continued negotiations with the government in hopes of working out a resolution but Meta seems to have shut its doors to discussions.
The changes Rodriguez intends to provide, in fact, very much echo the amendments that Google proposed to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, before the bill was passed, aimed at hashing out certain sections it qualified as “vague and broad’, notably, around the exemption criteria (Section 11 of the Act) and the scope of eligible news businesses.
For instance, the government said it will provide clarity on what constitutes a “significant portion” of independent local news businesses, Indigenous news outlets, and official-language minority community news outlets, under Section 11.
It will also consider the existing agreements that Meta and Google currently have with Canadian news businesses. Google told Parliament it had 150 deals under its digital news initiative and Google News showcase, and has also provided funding for 229 news outlets as of the end of 2022. Meta had similarly struck 18 voluntary deals with Canadian news outlets, which it started annulling following the bill passing.
Further, the document said that Rodriguez’s regulations would reaffirm language from the act so that non-monetary offerings to news organizations, such as training or other products, be included in the CRTC’s evaluation of exemption criteria.
But here’s the real kicker: the backgrounder says that Rodriguez intends to set a limit for financial contributions based on a platform’s “estimated Canadian revenues” and their particular “position within the news marketplace.” This means that the value that news businesses derive will no longer be based on how many links a news organization posts.
The government has repeatedly dismissed the complaints of the tech giants that they will have to pay exorbitant amounts of money and would face uncapped liability based on how many links are posted. But this proposed change, University of Ottawa internet law professor, Michael Geist argued, represents a “face-saving compromise” for the government.
This model, he said, “would likely meet many of Google’s stated structural requirements, since it no longer links payments to links, caps liability, and accounts for other contributions. He added, “the company would add up its existing deals, strike new ones with broadcasters and other independent outlets (hence the clarity on what is needed), and leave it to the CRTC to grant an exemption.”
But he doubts that a deal with Meta is possible, especially with the government suspending its advertising on Facebook and Instagram and rallying others to do the same.
These regulations, Geist added, also erodes the role of the CRTC as an independent arbiter, as the government is basically telling the CRTC what spending is needed to obtain an exemption.
Cabinet said that the development of these draft regulations is currently underway and that it entails a multi-step process that must be approved by the Governor in Council (GIC).