CRTC Sets Mandatory Bargaining for Bill C-18 to Late 2024 – 2025

The large media companies were hoping for a quick favourable resolution to the issues of Bill C-18. The CRTC isn’t giving it to them.

The situation with Bill C-18 has predictably become a complete mess with Facebook in the process of dropping news links. Google, with their announcement, is expected to follow suit sometime soon after. The situation was long warned about, but actively ignored by government and Bill C-18 supporters alike – instead choosing to cling to the talking point of it being all just a big fancy bluff and “but Australia!” Reality, obviously, had other plans.

One aspect throughout the debate was the fact that supporters have been wanting things to ‘urgently’ move forward more quickly. This was a repeated theme throughout the Bill C-18 senate hearings. Some were actively calling for even tighter deadlines for this bill to become law, claiming that a tactic they were fearing from the platforms was that the platforms would delay for as long as possible when the situation was “urgent” and deals needed to be made yesterday.

Obviously, that conspiracy never came to fruition with Meta already dropping news links and Google expected to follow suit soon after. Add that to the incredibly long list of things that supporters of the law got wrong all this time. At this point in time, all expectations are that news links will become a thing of the past in Canada on the affected platforms, meaning that the ransom payments aren’t happening in the first place. With the government announcing that the law is coming into force by December 19th or sooner, the platforms are highly motivated to move forward with plans to block news links sooner rather than later.

In the incredibly unlikely scenario that the platforms somehow fold their positions, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in this debate, some of the media outlets supporting the now called Online News Act might be hoping for a deal to follow suit very quickly. Recently released guidelines by the CRTC, however, poured some cold water on that. In their guidelines, they said that they’ll undergo an implementation process along with consultations along the way. From there, they expect mandatory bargaining to begin late 2024 or 2025:

Our Plan

To implement the Online News Act, the CRTC will set up a framework for fair negotiations between news organizations in Canada and the largest online platforms that distribute their news content. The CRTC will oversee the mandatory bargaining process once it is in place. The CRTC will launch a public consultation to gather the views of Canadians and interested parties.

Fall 2023

The CRTC will hold a public consultation.

The CRTC will also issue a call for proposals for an independent auditor, who will prepare an annual report on the impact of the Act on Canada’s digital news marketplace.

Starting Summer 2024

The CRTC will publish the framework and code of conduct.

The CRTC will also recruit qualified independent arbitrators, consider applications for eligibility from news organizations, and begin information gathering.

Late 2024/Early 2025

Once eligible news organizations and arbitrators are in place, mandatory bargaining can begin.

As Michael Geist commented, this completely destroys the calls for urgency:

CRTC issues a timeline for its work on Bill C-18, suggesting mandatory bargaining starting as late as 2025. But law takes effect within months, meaning Google and Meta face “business choice” of blocked news ljnks now. So much for the supposed urgency.

Geist is right, the law can take effect any time between now and December 19th of this year. The situation presents itself with a rather odd situation. The platforms can either block news links now, before the law comes into force, or forever hold their peace. After all, the bill itself is now law and the time to try to debate the core mechanics of the new law is now over. Some of the finer details might be fought over, but things like news media eligibility, mandatory bargaining, and other core concepts are final. The supporters of this legislation largely got everything they wanted and the only wiggle room for anything else revolves around minor details for how this system will look specifically.

Indeed, none of this will stop the CRTC from moving forward with this. That is what they are expected to do in the first place. They are now required to set up how this all works, what the negotiating process will look like and where the boundaries for CRTC intervention are, and dealing with how final offer arbitration will look among other things. Of course, the process will be pretty easy since the platforms are already in the process of walking away. Once the processes have been worked out, the only thing the large media companies will get out of the platforms is an empty chair – and rightfully so considering how ridiculous the concept of link taxes are in the first place.

At any rate, if there are media companies holding out for some kind of miracle and quick bargaining to follow in the next few months, those hopes were clearly dashed thanks to the CRTC notes about all of this. If there are any news outlets that can’t hold out for another year without this, then your fates have been sealed already. Either look elsewhere to try and make that business work or just take that operation out of its misery now.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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