Canadian legislation forcing big tech to pay media is on the way. This is how we got here

OTTAWA — A bill that could throw a lifeline to Canada’s financially-struggling news industry is set to be introduced by the federal government, reigniting the debate between digital giants and publishers over compensation for shared news on online platforms.

The “An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content accessible to persons in Canada” surfaced on Parliament’s notice paper earlier this week, meaning the bill will soon be tabled in the House of Commons. Communal room.

The legislation should require companies like Google and Facebook to share a portion of their advertising revenue with Canadian media for links to news content on their platforms.

The intention, according to the government, is to level the playing field between big tech and the information industry, which for years has argued that online platforms consume advertising revenue generated by their own content and jeopardize the future of journalism.

But how has Canada approached this debate in recent years?

Here’s what you need to know.

The road so far

In recent years, many countries have studied the crisis in the face of shrinking information industries and the market power of web giants like Google and Facebook in the online advertising space.

In 2019, for example, the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project reported that 80% of online advertising revenue in Canada went to the two tech titans.

Canada’s news industry – including Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star – has been pushing for the federal government to correct the imbalance in online ad revenue.

Discussions between news publishers and online platforms over revenue sharing intensified in 2021 as Australia finalized and adopted its news media trading code.

The code, which will serve as the basis for Canadian legislation, called for news publishers and web giants to negotiate payment arrangements for content shared on their sites.

France‘s approach was also under consideration at the time, which was to change copyright law to force tech giants to pay for the use of news content.

What will it look like?

The Australian Code allows media organizations and digital platforms to enter into their own agreements for the use and reproduction of news content. If they fail to agree, a final offer arbitration process would kick in to reach a deal.

This process has not yet been triggered in Australia, as Google and Facebook have entered into agreements with publishers.

Similar agreements already exist in Canada, leaving it open to question whether they will be exempt from the impending bill.

Last fall, Google struck a deal with 11 publishers, including Torstar, to join its News Showcase service. Through the service, users can access content from certain publications, share information from trusted outlets, and redirect traffic to their sites.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, signed a multi-year deal with Torstar in November that will see the web giant pay the publisher for the ability to post links to work produced by its publications. Seventeen other Canadian publishers are part of the program, called News Innovation Test.

But knowing what the Australian deals look like and how they happened is “shrouded in mystery”, says Dwayne Winseck, a communications professor at Carleton University and director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.

And the code might do little to address the root causes of market imbalance, he said.

“It might level the playing field somewhat between news media and platforms by forcing them to come to the table, but it does nothing to negate the larger issue of platforms’ dominating market power in the economy. digital,” Winseck said.

Why now?

There are likely two reasons the federal government is finally moving forward with tabling the bill after years of considering the matter, said Paul Deegan, CEO of News Media Canada, of which Torstar is a member.

The first is that Australia’s code has been in effect for just over a year, so Canada has been able to see how the law has worked during that time.

“I think the politicians wanted to act, but they didn’t really know what the best approach was. If you look at (last) summer, by then you were a few months into the Aussie model and deals were already signed,” he said. “So I think that’s what really drove the success there.”

The other motive may have been the scourge of online disinformation and misinformation, a topic the federal government has taken particular notice of in recent months.

“I think everyone really understands the important role of journalism in this age of fake news. The misinformation around the pandemic, and frankly, the misinformation coming out of Moscow… people really seem to understand that it’s important,” Deegan said.

“Now really is the time to act, and we don’t have another two or three years to wait.”

PR

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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