As Session Ends, Canadian Link Tax Making a Comeback – Mandate Letter

The last session of the year has ended. According to a mandate letter, the Canadian link tax is returning.

Last Friday was the last day for the current session of parliament. That means that no new legislation will be moving forward until the new year. According to the sitting calendar, the next day parliament is in session is January 31st. So, we’ll be getting nearly a whole month of reprieve for now.

Back in November, we saw the Speech from the Throne. From the perspective of the speech, it looked like two of the three prongs on the Canadian war on the Internet. Those prongs were speech regulation and the online harms proposal. The speech regulation (AKA former Bill C-10), would regulate what voices will and won’t be largely heard on social media. Meanwhile, the online harms proposal would generally target everything and crackdown on whatever is deemed “harmful”. What is “harmful” could change at any time for whatever reason. Regardless, the overarching signal from the government is that the time of free speech online has come to an end.

Of course, one of the predictions that we had was the revival of the link tax. To a lot of people’s surprise, that didn’t make it into the speech from the throne. So, more than a few eyebrows were, indeed, raised over that. We, of course, noted that while the link taxes seemingly missed the Throne Speech, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gone for good. Now, we are learning that the prediction that we seemingly got wrong may not be all that wrong any more. In fact, it is looking like we scored the clean sweep for all seven predictions thanks to a mandate letter from the Prime Minister.

The mandate letter is available on the Canadian government website and it spells out what the Prime Minister envisions for the near future. While elements of the war on the open Internet are certainly in there, one aspect stands out:

As Minister of Canadian Heritage, your immediate focus will be to ensure artists and cultural industries have the supports they need to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure Canada’s laws reflect our evolving digital world, you will work to introduce legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act, ask web giants to pay their fair share and combat serious forms of harmful online content. You will also move early to take steps with Indigenous partners to create a national monument to honour residential school Survivors. Since arts and culture draw us together and help tell us who we are, you will also prioritize efforts to promote cultural and creative industries in both official languages, increase funding to empower Indigenous, Black and racialized artists and journalists to tell their own stories and work with Indigenous partners to preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada.

To realize these objectives, I ask that you achieve results for Canadians by delivering the following commitments.

Reintroduce legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act to ensure foreign web giants contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian stories and music.

Swiftly introduce legislation to require digital platforms that generate revenues from the publication of news content to share a portion of their revenues with Canadian news outlets to level the playing field between global platforms and Canadian outlets. This legislation should be modelled on the Australian approach and introduced in early 2022.

So, despite the fact that big tech has inked deals with large tech giants, seemingly muting the debate over link taxes. Big publishing in Canada is getting their way and big tech is cooperating. As a result, the unity for link tax laws collapsed thanks to the large media corporations getting what they want. There are a few holdouts who wanted to get a better deal by making the government push through a link tax law, but most in the industry have chosen to work out deals. So, it seems those holdouts are going to get exactly what they want.

Earlier in November, the talking point that large media outlets are on the verge of collapse thanks to big tech keeping all the profits to themselves was effectively killed when a professor noted how PostMedia was reaping huge profits while handing out the pink slips and slashing wages at the same time. It ultimately raised the question of whether the media was really losing as much money as they claimed. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time big media pushed false or misleading claims.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s comments is worse than simply implementing a terrible policy. He apparently wants to implement the dumpster fire Australian News Bargaining Code on top of it all. Australia has been largely credited by the Canadian media as pioneering the link tax. What they don’t talk about is not only why it was so bad in the first place, but how it came on the back of the country banning encryption of all things. It was part of a long term “out with logic, on with lunacy” plan where the country was trying its hardest to legally screw up technology as a whole at the behest of entrenched corporate lobbyists.

Outside of the absurdity of the media getting paid to receive free Internet traffic from Google, the Australian model has been long considered a complete and total failure. One of the major points against the Australian model is how it favours large corporate players at the expense of smaller news operations. From an analysis back in February:

WHEN the Coalition’s News Media Bargaining Code first reared its bent, unwanted head, last September, Independent Australia saw it for what it was — a sop to Murdoch.

A way for the Coalition to prop up their failing corporate owner and public relations agency, the Murdoch media.

A way for minor executives in the News Corp apparatus, Morrison and Frydenberg, to further curry favour with their big boss, Rupert Murdoch, by dipping into the fortunes of Google and Facebook. And a way to curtail the increasingly annoying dissident voices of emerging news media, like Independent Australia, at the same time.

The proposed News Media Bargaining Code is utterly illogical. It only covers Facebook and Google — one a social media company and the other a search engine. It does not cover Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Liker, TikTok, Reddit and the gamut of other search engines and social media outlets. Why? Simply because Facebook and Google are the most successful, have put a hole in the advertising budgets of old media dinosaurs like News Corp and Fairfax, and so they want their share.

It is nothing more than a Murdoch tax on two major competitors. This is not the free market at work – Adam Smith’s invisible hand – this is just nepotism and cronyism. Yet another Liberal Party rort.

Just let that sink in that this is the kind of model Justin Trudeau wants to follow. If you are a smaller news operation, any mention that the Canadian government wants to follow the Australian model should be a red flag. You could be fully supportive of the idea of freeloading off of Google and Facebook. That doesn’t matter. The Australian model is basically taking money from a set of large tech giants and handing it to only the largest players in the media. Long story short, you are going to get shafted anyway as the largest players cement themselves. Hey, at least the likes of CTV and PostMedia will be happy, right?

All that goes over top of the simple fact that none of this should be happening in the first place. Linking to content is very easily fair dealing in the eyes of current Canadian law. The very idea that you have to pay money to reference material is unprecedented in any academic discipline. For those who have experience in a University setting, when you look up scholarly journals, did you have to pay a fee to reference something in a paper? No. The campus simply paid for the access to those scholarly journals. It would be as if you handed a paper into a professor and being told that because you referenced 5 other sources, you now owe a collective $50. Such a scenario would be completely insane.

Yet, such an insane scenario is exactly what is being pushed for with the whole concept of link taxes in the first place. While the ask is for the likes of Google, who knows if such a thing will eventually spill over to other smaller players to further cement the dominance of the largest players in the market.

At any rate, things are looking bad in Canada. At this stage, Canadians will get to enjoy a reprieve for the month of January, but then the worry will be on over when the next shoe is going to drop. Whether it is through the next attempt to pass Bill C-10, a push for online harms, link taxes, or something else, the list of possibilities over which terrible concept will get pushed first is long. The fact that the Canadian government wants to move forward with the bad link tax law is just icing on this disaster cake.

(via MGeist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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