Canada’s War on the Open Internet: Likely Link Tax Bill Appears on Notice Paper

The Canadian government is continuing the war on the open Internet with a potential link tax appearing on the notice paper.

With Bill C-11 soaking up a lot of attention lately, it can be easy to forget that this is just one of three prongs on the Liberal parties war on the open Internet. The other two prongs are, of course, link taxes and online harms.

Link taxes, if you recall, is part of an international push by multinational corporations involved in the publishing industry. They are demanding that they receive money for the privilege of having their content linked to. This is mainly aimed at news aggregators and large social media platforms, however, as many point out, the risk is that this will gradually apply to the rest of the Internet at large. With linking being such an integral part of the Internet, this link tax is largely seen as an attack on one of the very foundations of the entire world wide web.

A big part of the general idea of link taxes is that the government forces sites like Google and Facebook to enter into “negotiations” with large publishers in an effort to come up with a licensing fee for links to their respective sites. As many no doubt point out, Google and Facebook had a chance to nip this problem in the bud when Australia was pushing for a similarly disastrous approach to online regulation.

Unfortunately, Google and Facebook ended up figuring that if they go along with this, then it would cement their dominant positions seemingly forever because the cost of creating a rival platform or site would be too high for anyone else. The end result is that the link tax became law in Australia and other publishers are now wanting their pound of flesh. Many of them relying on misinformation and false statements about how sites like Google and Facebook are somehow “stealing” their content without compensation because they linked to them.

In February, Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, confirmed that the benefits of the link tax would be focused on large legacy players in the media business. Obviously, that is bad news for smaller players who will not only have to content with the larger players dominant position, but also have to deal with the larger players having a new unfair advantage over them as well. Two days later, the Minister also said that the link tax would be tabled “soon”.

Of course, we’ve been waiting all month, but no sign of the link tax was forthcoming – until today that is. Michael Geist spotted its appearance on the notice paper:

Introduction of Government Bills
March 29, 2022 — The Minister of Canadian Heritage — Bill entitled “An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada”.

Based on the tweet, some people seemingly got the sense that this was about shaping the contents of the news. The title given above, however, hints that this is more about link taxes. In order for the bill to also be about shaping the contents of news in Canada, it would have to have been radically altered from the original intent to do so.

Still, the link tax is corrosive in and of itself. The core idea of link taxes is damaging in and of itself. The ways in which it could be implemented, however, could stand to cause a lot more damage. For instance, it could contain provisions that say that smaller news outlets need to pay millions for the privilege of linking to news content. Such a provision would wipe out virtually all of the smaller players in the news business. Another way that smaller players could be harmed by this is maybe a provision that says that every site that links to something needs to pay into a fund that would later be directed to larger players. That could destroy pretty much the Canadian Internet as a whole right then and there.

We obviously don’t know the contents of the bill, though. So, we’ll have to wait and see when the text of the legislation comes out. From there, we plan on providing our usual independent analysis of the legislation. Still, we are currently in a “all hands, brace for impact” moment. We hope it won’t be completely destructive on the open Internet, but there is little hope that this will be a harmless piece of legislation as well.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

1 Trackback or Pingback

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: