Bill C-18 (Link Tax) Passes Senate Second Reading – Heads to Committee for Study

Canada’s link tax law, or Bill C-18, has passed second reading at the senate. It will now head to committee for study.

As the Canadian senate mulls destroying the careers of digital first creators with Bill C-11, it seems that they are moving also moving ahead with the bill that stands to destroy the careers of independent journalists. That is, of course, Bill C-18, Canada’s link tax law.

Much like Bill C-11, Bill C-18 was brought into existence thanks to the massive lobbying efforts and webs of lies by wealthy hedge fund backed big publishing corporations. Ironically, Big Publishing is also claiming poverty in all of this, claiming that without Bill C-18, journalism would practically cease to exist in this country. Obviously, none of that is true, but when it’s the media spreading disinformation, who, besides small independent news outlets like us, are going to fact-check these claims and correct the story? Ultimately, it means that the truth has a much harder time getting out.

Yet, if Big Publishing gets its way, many small independent news outlets will have significantly more pressure to just fold and shut down. This is because Bill C-18 tilts the financial power more heavily in the larger outlets favour. By design, a large majority of any financial benefits that would come out of this legislation would go to the largest players, leaving mere scraps, at best, for the smaller players – financial benefits that have a long track record of being grossly exaggerated.

In many cases, though, smaller players wouldn’t even qualify at all, meaning that they get no benefits at all thanks to provisions saying that news outlets that focus on “a particular topic” would be barred from receiving any financial help. All of this happens at the same time as the law requiring that all news links, regardless of source that news comes from. Of course, in recent weeks, it has become doubtful that financial benefits will actually come from this bill at all.

The reason why it is becoming increasingly unlikely that large media corporations will be able to freeload off of the success of a completely unrelated industry is because the players being targeted are looking to just block news links altogether. Facebook came out and straight up said that if Bill C-18 is not amended, then they would drop Canadian news links altogether. Google, meanwhile, is currently in the process of examining all of its options. This was made clear when they tested their services to see if they can block Canadian news links on their Google News service.

None of the moves are particularly surprising given the financial climate we are in now. This while news playing such a minor role in the success of these platforms to begin with. Indeed, Big Publishing and it’s few supporters insist that the platforms are only successful because of news links, but the data never really backed that up. While Big Publishing is trying to insist that all of this is a big bluff and that all the problems cropping up because of the link tax will magically resolve itself, even some inside the industry are starting to admit that maybe all of this isn’t a bluff after all.

The large media outlets themselves can’t even really figure out what their position is in all of this. Specifically, they can’t figure out if platforms allowing links to their platforms is bad because the platforms are stealing from them or good because blocking their news links is censoring the media. In all likelihood, they’ll probably never figure it out.

Regardless of all of it, it seems that the Canadian Senate is moving ahead with crushing the lives of independent journalists. Recently, the senate moved to have the bill referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. This is the same committee that heard from digital first creators over Bill C-11.

While the committee is the same, the air is very different from when the Bill C-11 hearings took place. When the Bill C-11 hearings took place, there wasn’t much in the way of reason to believe the senate would go in either direction. Whether it is lending a sympathetic ear to Canadian’s or to mercilessly bury the careers of Canadian’s, it wasn’t entirely clear which direction the senate, as a whole, will go.

With Bill C-18, independent news organizations are poised to have the precedence that only the biggest corporations are ultimately heard in the end. The smallest players are thrown to the streets like garbage and told to find a different career or get the blank out out of the country. Either way, they are not welcome in this country. If the independent small voices are emotionally distraught, some lawmakers at the House of Commons level will actually react with glee to it – just to pour salt in the wound.

As a result, the hearings almost feel like an exercise in futility. Even if the senate hears from smaller players and pass changes that have a meaningfully positive impact, the government at the House of Commons level will simply veto those changes anyway. Afterwards, the senate will just fold like a cheap lawn chair and admit that even the Charter of Rights and Freedoms isn’t worth fighting for (yes, there are legal opinions saying Bill C-18 is unconstitutional from a reputable source). You know, it’s not worth creating a fuss about. Just wave the white flag and rubberstamp the bill. After all, that’s what the senate has ultimately devolved to in action in the grand scheme of things.

So, how do Canadians move forward in all of this? With the Canadian government doing everything they can to not have our backs, we are all on our own. While it’s still encouraged to go the senate and tell them that they are destroying their lives, there are other practical solutions available. Indeed, as we earlier pointed out, it’s possible for a news website to survive the impending link tax apocalypse. One has to shift the business model to go beyond news and think of news as a user retention feature rather than a feature that brings users into your site. Find ways of serving the community differently like opening a forum, create a community calendar for local events, or showcase different local businesses in some way. Anything that is not time sensitive could be crucial to your survival at this point.

Indeed, Freezenet has already done so and, although growth is significantly slower, all that work has increased the sites survival odds once the link tax shoe drops. So, while the government seems to be increasingly hopeless in crafting laws that benefit Canadians in general, it seems prudent to start crafting a business model that works around the obstacles being thrown down by a government that is only concerned with supporting the large corporations operating in this country. We’ll all soon be in survival mode and the worst thing you can do is nothing in preparation. After all, the Canadian government certainly isn’t waiting around to ruin your life.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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