Canadian Government Hold Last Ditch Talks with Meta and Google to Salvage Bill C-18

The government seems to be realizing it wasn’t a bluff. They are in talks with platforms to salvage Bill C-18.

It seemed like the inevitable conclusion could happen at any moment. After passing Bill C-18, Meta would, as formally announced, would block news links entirely. As a result, the media would bare witness to a catastrophic disaster where web traffic would dry up on numerous news websites. While the largest players would likely survive, medium and small players may not be so lucky. Either way, the demise of a number of outlets would only be hastened thanks to the now called Online News Act.

With the platforms in the process of getting ready to pull the news block lever, it seems that there has been a development. The government, like the hardcore supporters of this disaster of a bill, consistently proclaimed that any talk of a news link block is just a bluff that can be ignored. Now, the government is finally having a change in perspective. Realizing that the blockages could happen any moment, they apparently decided to finally get into talks with the platforms. From the National Post:

While a Google source expressed some hope the talks could lead to a resolution, a statement from Meta appeared more skeptical about the possibility it could backtrack on its plans to block news on Facebook and Instagram in response to the legislation.

A Google source told the National Post that when the minister reached out Thursday, the company was hours from having to decide if they would immediately suspend all links to Canadian news on its products in Canada.

The source said until that last-minute change, the government had been brushing off Google’s attempts to communicate its concerns and propose solutions. While Google had met with staff, it had been told the minister was unavailable, and until this week hadn’t met with Rodriguez about the bill for more than a year.

It wasn’t until Google secured a meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office that things changed abruptly — leading Rodriguez to re-engage in talks just minutes before the bill received royal assent.

The source said Google was hopeful it was going to be able to get the clarity the company needs right away, before the regulatory process begins. The source said the company’s main concerns remain, particularly “uncapped financial liability” and an “unclear” path to exemption from the bill.

The talks are now in a critical window, the source said.

The last minute move happened shortly after the large media outlets started to realize that they were on the verge of financially blowing themselves up. For instance, Bell earlier admitted that the bill would not have the intended effect – this while laying off 1,300 employees and shuttering 9 radio stations. The Globe and Mail, for its part, worried that a rejected amendment would see the very nightmare scenario we are on the verge of witnessing.

One thing everyone agrees with at this stage, the window of opportunity to avert a disaster is fast closing – a disaster that was entirely brought on by the media themselves. It’ll be interesting to see if they can work out a deal now that the government has finally opened a line of communication with the platforms. The thing is, there is a lot working against such talks.

A big point is the fact that other countries are now pushing for similar bills. A capitulation here would have international ramifications. This where lobbyists and government would be emboldened to push their bill. The platforms know full well that a last minute deal in Australia has led to the scenario here in Canada where those pushing this legislation to say that you can’t believe that the platforms would really block news links. A capitulation here would prove their point and would put both Meta and Google at a political disadvantage when fighting these bills elsewhere. A news block here would change the chess board dramatically in other fights.

What’s more, from a business perspective, it doesn’t make any sense to go along with this in the first place. With so little of the platform dependent on news in the first place, the platforms would simply be throwing away money for no real reason. How does one actually explain that away to shareholders looking to turn a profit at all times? What’s more, the liability is going up and the platforms wouldn’t exactly be fighting this trend of just giving money away for no discernible reason.

Still, there’s no two ways about this, Canada’s link tax is on life support and the outcome of these talks could determine the fate of Canada’s link tax law.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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