After many twists and turns, and more than two and a half years of review, the Canadian government passed a new law that forces tech giants like YouTube and TikTok to support Canadian cultural content.
The law, called C-11, gives the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) broad authority to regulate these platforms, just as they do radio and television.
The government says it is necessary to promote local artists and prevent the giants of the streaming have carte blanche for the dissemination of their content.
Although it is not clear what the final regulations will look like, the law has drawn the ire of everyone from tiktokers to popular author Margaret Atwood.
YouTube ran ads on the Toronto subway to denounce the law, which it believes will disempower viewers and put creators in the hands of bureaucrats.
Atwood, always blunt with his opinions, compared it to Soviet censorship. Some Canadian influencers even threatened to move to the United States.
What is the new C-11 law and why is it so controversial?
content culture wars
With a global cultural giant just south of the border, Canadians have long grappled with the question of how to ensure that local content like music and TV isn’t drowned out by the glitz and glamor of their competition. US.
Since the 1970s, the CRTC has been in charge of regulating broadcasters, including setting quotas for the minimum amount of Canadian content a radio or television station must play, as well as requiring broadcasters to spend at least 30% of its income in the production of Canadian content.
Dubbed “CanCon,” the complex system helped fuel some of the country’s biggest cultural exports.including artists like Celine Dion and Drake, and the comedy show Kids in the Hall.
However, in the 21st century, Canadians let the algorithms of Spotify, YouTube and TikTok do the choosing for them. These Silicon Valley companies didn’t have to abide by the same Canadian content rules, a gap that the government says is closed with Bill C-11.
“Online streaming has changed the way we create, discover and consume our culture and it is time we update our system to reflect that,” the government said in a statement.
change the algorithm
From the beginning, big tech platforms like YouTube and TikTok strongly opposed the law and lobbied the government.
In a statement to the BBC, YouTube said it was “disappointed” with the legislation. However, he assured that “he will continue to support our creators and users in the next steps of this process.”
The problem with Bill C-11 is a clause that would require broadcasters, including social networks like YouTube and TikTok, to “clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming, in both official languages and indigenous languages.”
Experts say it could create a system where Canadian YouTubers have to prove they’re Canadian enough to be seen.
This system, called “MAPL”, already exists for musicians. Assign points to a song based on the nationality of its singer, producer, lyricist, and other factors. The ins and outs of who’s Canadian bothered famed Canadian singer Bryan Adams so much that in 1992 he lamented, “You’d never hear Elton John declared non-British.”
The advent of algorithms has only made the problem more complicated. Every time users consume something, that tells the algorithm more about what they like. The more people like something, the larger audience the product gets.
But to promote Canadian content, platforms would have to change algorithms.
On the surface it might seem that this model would give Canadian influencers an advantage. But some say they fear getting bogged down in red tape and that changes to the algorithm could hurt rather than help.
“If they artificially put (content) in front of people who don’t want it, we’re going over the edge,” said Scott Benzie, executive director of Digital First Canada, an organization that represents Canadian content creators, who opposed the bill and received funding from YouTube.
The problem lies, he said, in what happens when content is recommended to someone based on location rather than interest.
Nathan Kennedy, a tiktoker who often posts investment advice to his 520,000 followers, has become one of many influencers opposing the bill.
“I understand the premise of trying to protect Canadian culture, I think the way they approach it is based a little more on traditional media,” he said. “It’s like fitting a square in a circle.”
Where to draw the line
One of the biggest concerns about the law is how broad its scope will be. The government rejected amendments aimed at exempting individual user content from regulation.
For now, no one knows what those regulations will look like: They will be decided in the coming months, after the CRTC holds public consultations on how the law should be implemented.
Some, including the conservative opposition, claim that the bill legalizes censorship.
Michael Geist, a scholar of privacy and internet law, and a prominent critic of the bill, says the problem is not that it stops people from speaking their minds, but rather that it puts the government in charge of deciding who gets to hear those thoughts. .
He said the law leaves the door wide open for CRTC overreach.
“The commission can propose whatever regulations it wants,” he told the BBC.
Others have praised the law, including the Writers Guild of Canada, for making streamers invest in Canadian productions.
“The time is long overdue for the major streaming services that benefit from the Canadian market to contribute to it”Neal McDougall, the organization’s deputy executive director, said in a statement.
A world without borders, for now
Canada is not the only country considering regulating online content.
Australia has introduced a new cultural policy, which is expected to come into force in May, and would include quotas for local content on streaming platforms.
The UK has also considered regulations for streaming services that would protect “distinctly British” content.
Morghan Fortier, who produces videos aimed at preschoolers on YouTube, says she’s concerned that if Canada sets the bar by prioritizing local content, other countries will follow suit, meaning smaller audiences overall.
The C-11 law was not the only project that the Canadian government presented to try to regulate the internet.
Bill C-18, currently in the Senate, would make it tech companies like Google compensate Canadian news organizations whose content appears on their platforms. The law is similar to the one passed in Australia in 2021.
The government says the law is necessary and accuses the tech giants of profiting from the news while the organizations themselves lose advertising revenue.
However, Silicon Valley strongly opposed the move. And in protest, Google even temporarily blocked news content for 4% of Canadian users.
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