Oops, they confirmed it again. The CRTC issued a statement saying that TikToker’s are encouraged to participate.
Bill C-11 supporters, and Heritage Minister officials, have long argued that platforms are in and users are out. Essentially, they keep saying over and over again that user generated content will not be regulated in this bill. This despite the fact that the text of the bill says otherwise. Despite the text of the bill, supporters keep trying to deny what the bill actually says by effectively saying that there is some sort of mystical interpretation that only they see and is the only true interpretation of it and to please oh please stop talking about it. Little surprise, however, that they haven’t been able to really articulate this mystical alternative facts/explanation while reading Section 4.2.
While supporters of the legislation have proven to not be shy about using misinformation and misleading statements, the CRTC has been much less ambiguous about the situation. After joining in the text denial campaign, the CRTC Chair confirmed the legislation does regulate user generated content back in May. In June, he also confirmed that Bill C-11 manipulates outcomes of algorithms.
Ultimately, the twin admission pretty much sealed the deal on what Bill C-11 does in both areas. Absent any significant reform to the legislation at this point (which seems unlikely), denying that Bill C-11 regulates user generated content and affects algorithms are simply bald-faced lies at this point. Of course, throughout the hearings, numerous Bill C-11 supporters kept trying to change the narrative by saying that the legislation only affects premium platforms like Netflix while leaving user generated content alone. Oddly enough, some supporters admitted that they are all for leaving online creators alone while others wound up gleefully cheering on the regulation by saying that they can face the CRTC alone when the bill becomes law, thus were happy over the idea of feeding online creators to the CRTC lions.
Of course, we already know that the CRTC views Bill C-11 C-11 as their chance to regulate user generated content with the previous statement. If you wanted a reminder that the CRTC, the regulator that is going to administer and enforce this law, views Bill C-11 as their chance to regulate user generated content, you actually got that confirmation recently. University law professor, Michael Geist, noted that the CRTC issued a statement saying that they encourage TikTok users to participate in their hearing processes and to register their content when the bill becomes law:
Even as Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez continues to insist that user content isn’t touched by Bill C-11, the CRTC is sending a different message. In a recent article on how digital creators are contemplating leaving Canada as a result of Bill C-11’s regulation of user content, the CRTC stated:
We strongly encourage interested parties – like TikTok users – to monitor our announcements and participate in public processes. Any decisions on who would have to register and how would only follow those processes, and people should make no assumptions about how the Commission may rule beforehand.
The registration requirements for TikTok and YouTube videos raise a host of issues and concerns.
First, these videos are simply creators engaged in freedom of expression. While they may have a commercial element, establishing a registration element with a regulator could represent a significant barrier to that freedom.
Second, any registration system that captures the millions of TikTok and YouTube videos is likely to be unworkable given the sheer volume involved. Last year, there were less than a thousand new certified Canadian film and television series. By comparison, last year there were over 4,500 Youtube channels alone with over 100,000 subscribers. Between just Youtube, TikTok, and Instagram, there are tens of thousands of creators and millions of videos that might need registration under a system that treats all audio-visual content as a program subject to potential regulation. The article notes that typical registration forms run 30 pages long. Applying a similar regulatory model to user content – as the government’s insists on doing in Bill C-11 – can’t possibly work for creators or the regulator.
Third, the CRTC comments undermine the government’s false claim that “platforms are in, users are out” when it comes to Bill C-11. Rather, the CRTC makes it clear that users need to closely monitor CRTC announcements and participate in the public process involving registration requirements. Even if the CRTC exempts some from registration, they must show up in Gatineau or submit to the policy process to ensure their concerns are heard. According to the CRTC, users are in.
Another point to emphasize is that a lot of creators out there simply don’t follow the regulatory process. After all, for them, they are not experts in broadcasting or the CRTC. Additionally, some may not even have a clue that this is happening. The only thing that they will know is that their impressions are suddenly dropping off of a cliff as their platform keeps weirdly recommending content from the CBC, CTV, and Global among a small number of other big production houses that no one is interested in. Because of that, they might suddenly lose their status for monetizing their content because their watch hours suddenly plummeted.
They may think that only them and a couple of others are affected, but the reality will eventually be that the whole industry in Canada is being hollowed out by a regulator hacking and slashing anything that is seen as competition to the establishment players in the production space. This has ramifications for the Canadian economy. Those commercialized video’s suddenly being not profitable will mean that fewer Canadians are able to pay taxes for their content afterwards. What’s more, a number of those creators are going to find ways of subverting the process – whether it is using a VPN or moving out of the country, they are going to have to choose between being broadcasting scofflaws or ending suddenly ending their careers. This as creators in other countries enjoy the continued use of the system without worry that their government is going to torpedo their livelihoods.
Additionally, there will be a disincentive to register their content. Not only is there 30 page forms for each and every individual video to submit, there is also the fact that their content could get demoted internationally even if they do happen to jump through all of the regulatory hoops. A domestic audience of some 30 million users will never beat out the population of the rest of the world. So, a number of creators might simply opt out, let their content be demoted in Canada, and pray that the international audience will pick up what slack was lost domestically.
For users, this might serve as an incentive to eventually get a VPN. Depending on how this winds up being implemented, there is that possibility that the recommendations will just be cluttered with garbage content no one wants. If not getting a VPN, some users might actually look for alternative platforms to continue following creators they like or find new ones – one that hasn’t been detected by the regulator as of yet. Obviously, this isn’t sustainable, but the incentive will be there for some users.
Of course, for me, I’m sticking to my original predictions and saying that this law is going to get dragged through the courts first. The chances that someone won’t sue to put a stop to this law in some form or another is about as on par as the Vancouver Canucks winning the next 5 Stanley Cup’s. It’s laughably unlikely that someone won’t litigate to put a stop to this bill. What’s more is that it’s, in my view, a very safe bet that something is going to get smacked down in such a scenario. It really sucks that it might have to go down that way, but with the government refusing to budge and the Senate seemingly destined to shirk its responsibility when it comes to a vote, that greatly increases the probability that this is going to happen.
The thing to note is that hoping for a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily decrease the uncertainty surrounding this by much. You have to hope someone, somewhere, with money and resources (I’m thinking CIPPIC would, actually), brings this whole thing to trial and hoping that the trial succeeds is technically a lot of “if”s. What’s more is that it’s difficult to say how long the law will be enforced first, thus potentially allowing for a lot of damage to take place. Best case scenario is a judge would put an injunction in place and no one really knows if an injunction would be granted or how long it would take for an injunction to be granted in the first place. So, there is going to be that legal gap that will very likely crop up.
So, unless there is some sort of miracle at the Senate that puts a stop to this madness, uncertainty for creators is going to happen. The question for some creators might be how long they are willing to endure such uncertainty or will they just move out of the country to not have to worry about the government taking it all away from them. That is going to be a very individual question with discussion about their risk tolerance and accessibility to making such a move among other things. One thing is certain is that these conversations among creators is happening and as we get closer to the end of this process, those weighing of options are only going to intensify.