Conservatives Proposed News Tax Bill Fails to Impress

A member of the Conservative party is proposing his own news tax legislation. The results suggest that tech ignorance is a bi-partisan affair.

You would think that with Canada having debates about copyright and the Internet for at least 16 years, politicians would have, uh, gotten around to actually figuring out what this whole Internet thing is all about. At the very least, get the teenager of the household to explain a thing or two. It seems that 2021 is no different then when I started writing news all the way back in 2005.

Already, we are seeing the Heritage Minister from the Liberal side pushing for a link tax law going so far as to say that the lack of the suicidal idea is “immoral”.

Now, if you think that the Conservative party is any better in all of this, well, no, they aren’t. In a seemingly equally ignorant move, Claude Carignan is proposing a sort of “news tax” system. In a nutshell, the law would force large platforms to pay a tariff if they publish a “substantial” portion of a news article, then the original source of that article is owed money. What is “substantial” is anyone’s guess. As things stand now, at most, platforms post a small snippet of the article, a link, the headline, and a postage stamp sized thumbnail of a picture. As things stand now, such activity falls well within the realm of fair dealing. The legislation also specifically excludes linking as part of the legislation.

So, who would such a bill be targeted at? We really have no idea. Among the platforms we use, everyone only posts a small snippet, a headline, the link, and a thumbnail at most. Furthermore, we have mechanisms in place to have these links posted to in the first place. That means at least one of two things: first: that the posts are fair dealing and two: what is posted on there is posted with our permission in the first place. After all, we put a system in place to have them posted after all.

The only time we are aware of where whole articles get posted is if they are manually posted on platforms in specific discussion threads. Most of the time, the reason is that some people are in different parts of the world and the source engages in outdated geo-blocking or backwards ad block blocking techniques. Even then, such instances are quite rare because many users discourage the linking to sources where portions of the audience will be blocked out in the first place. At any rate, those instances are quite rare in the first place.

At any rate, it seems that this forthcoming legislation is supposed to somehow magically cure the ills of media today. As far as we are concerned, it isn’t going to do much of anything.

Our opinion is far from alone. Michael Geist is commenting on the legislation and he has similar thoughts on this as well:

Leaving aside doubts about whether there is any need for this mandated remuneration system, it is difficult to pick what is the worst part of this proposal. First, it misunderstands the technology and doesn’t actually address the issue at all. Platforms such as Facebook and Google only include hyperlinks, sometimes accompanied by the headline and a short blurb from the underlying article. This reform would seemingly not touch the actual uses on those services since it excludes hyperlinks and is limited to the work or a substantial portion thereof. The blurb is a not full copy of the work nor is it a substantial portion. By its own definition, the reform would not address the articles that appear on platforms.

Second, even if a blurb was viewed as a substantial portion, copyright law already would address this and require either a licence or that the work be covered by an exception or user right. In this instance, there is a very strong argument it would qualify as fair dealing, which the Copyright Board would be required to consider as part of its assessment, leaving little for which to compensate.

Third, the proposal does not address the fact that many of the articles on platforms are posted by news organizations themselves. To compensate news organizations for the articles they post would create an odd dynamic where media organizations could effectively guarantee payment through their own social media posts. Those posts – which are subject to a licence agreement that the organization itself agrees to – should not be compensated and would require exclusion by the Board.

Fourth, creating a subjective system in which cabinet decides which platforms must pay and which are excluded is practically an open invitation for a trade challenge. The Canadian government can’t simply pick and choose a few U.S. companies for payment with no established criteria for why some are in and others are out.

So, an all around facepalm on this one. If anything, it seems that not knowing how the Internet works and wanting to table legislation to change it is a bi-partisan affair. Neither a link tax nor a news tax is even remotely close to reasonably good ideas in the first place. Yet, here we are with certain politician’s going shoulder to the wheel on these ideas as if it’s the most important thing to do ever. If it weren’t for the possibilities of these forthcoming bills becoming law, the reasonable response is to give the people making these proposals slaps up the back of the head.

Admittedly, the problem of lawmakers making legal proposals on subjects they clearly don’t understand is nothing new. It doesn’t make it any less irritating when it happens, though. With one of the few voices of reason out of the picture, it’s unclear if Canada’s two biggest political parties has anyone with a respectable background to actually guide them anymore on Internet issues. So, this might become a common thing for a while still.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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