International Reaction to Bill C-18: How Do We Avoid Being the Next Canada?

International attention to Bill C-18 is increasing. One question is on their mind: how do we avoid the failures of Bill C-18?

The Canadian government was trying to become a golden standard for how to implement a link tax. Now, the international community looking in on Canada is increasingly asking how to avoid being the next Canada. Facebook has already started rolling out news links blocking – the effects of which were seen last week. The moves are putting additional pressure on the other player involved, Google, to follow suit.

In fact, Recent reports suggest that Google’s position, despite numerous talks, hasn’t really moved that much. From Politico:

Google met with the Canadian government more than 100 times over the bill and testified four times, but “frankly, until the very end,” there was “little or no dialogue on how the law was made.”

The government painted a contrast between the two companies, suggesting Meta is stubborn and not negotiating, while Google remains at the table.

“We don’t negotiate in public but we’re deeply convinced that Google’s concerns will be resolved through regulations,” Rodriguez said on July 5, the day the Canadian government pulled its advertising from Facebook and Instagram in retaliation. Those regulations are still being hammered out.

But talk to Google, and the company appears yet unmoved.

“This whole situation was avoidable,” Isakowitz said, and “when the law goes into effect, we are going to have to remove Canadian news.”

The fact that Google really hasn’t changed their position since their late June announcement would certainly lend more credibility to the idea that Google is very likely to follow suit and roll out their own news links blocking. Unlike Facebook, Google dropping news links and news sources can easily mean a website suddenly goes from regularly rolling in cash to being financially unviable overnight.

As most web developers know, being unlisted on Google for most websites is basically a death sentence because so few users will be able to discover that site in the first place. No users to your website means no ad revenue or subscriptions. No revenue means you are running a site for free which means there is no business case to be had for it. Facebook dropping your news links will hurt a business. Google dropping your site can mean your website is as good as dead. Combined blocking means your website is on the fast track to financial ruin in most cases.

With Facebook in the process of dropping news links and Google seemingly ready to follow suit, the failure of Bill C-18 is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. The bills failure will also have the affect of hastening the demise of the media sector in this country. No Facebook means a significant handicap to a websites growth. No Google means that existing traffic drops out a lot. Sure, one could attempt to replace those two services, but replacing both Google and Facebook when a website depended so heavily on traffic from the two would be, at minimum, an extremely tall order.

The seemingly inevitable failure is catching the attention of international observers and media. More from Politico:

California state Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) has this same battle brewing over her Journalism Preservation Act, also loosely modeled on Australia’s code, which passed the lower house in a bipartisan 55-6 vote in June.

It was put on hold following tech industry backlash, but is set to come up next year for consideration in the upper chamber. And she’s taking notes on Canada.

“Part of me believes the threats that are happening in Canada are happening also strategically to impact policy in California and in other parts of the world,” she tells Politico. “I think what they want to do is scare folks enough by making big threats towards Canada.”

But she doesn’t see how a company like Google can block news, at least not in the long run.

“If you want to be the search engine that has everything under your tent for people to search, then have everything under your tent,” she said. “ It will have a negative impact on their own business model because people will then go on to other places to get content.”

The comments by Wicks is truly facepalm worthy. For the better part of two years (it was mostly about “stealing” news before that), supporters of Bill C-18 kept screaming and shouting that what Google and Facebook are threatening to do with the blocking of news links was “just a bluff”. They further used the famed “But Australia!” talking point by arguing that the news link blocking didn’t work in Australia, and they capitulated quickly, so therefore, it automatically won’t work here – not even considering any context of what happened in Australia which involved the platforms not being designated in exchange of a handful of deals.

The problem is that Bill C-18 automatically designates the platform instead of leaving it to the discretion of a government official. This is likely a big reason why the platforms view Bill C-18 as completely unworkable in the first place.

While tech experts, law experts, and observers alike regularly pointed out that platforms don’t actually depend on news traffic that much, the insistence from supporters and the government was that the only reason platforms are successful was because the platforms scrape and pillage news content. To put it another way, supporters and government alike looked at the pile of evidence and shouted, “But I refute it because I said so!” No amount of evidence was ever going to get them to back off from sending the entire media sector off of a cliff.

Yet, despite all of this and all of the hard lessons being taught, Wicks has chosen to fulfill the classic definition of insanity by insisting that things will be different in California. It sounds like the big talking point to refute the even larger mountain of evidence is to dismiss it all as “just a tactic” while threatening to send the California news sector off the cliff in the same manner as Canada – with the cheering and applause of that very same news sector. In other words, Wicks has learned nothing from the Canadian experience.

University law professor, Michael Geist, noted that he is now receiving many phone calls from Europe asking how to avoid being the next Canada.

The mess that is Bill C-18 continues to attract international intention. FWIW, I had multiple calls last week with European groups anxious to avoid becoming the next Canada on this issue.

It is quite telling that the international community is increasingly admitting that the Canada approach is destined to become a failure. It isn’t just those on the inside viewing the situation in such a light. People on the outside of Canada looking in are also viewing the Canadian approach in this light as well.

It really should go without saying: don’t push and pass link tax laws. That would be the first thing that comes to mind. Any government that pushes for link taxes at this point is just plain crazy. Unless the aim is to bankrupt the countries media, don’t pass link tax laws.

What’s more, if the country wants to push a law that redistributes wealth from the platforms to the platforms, a fund model of some sort would be a better approach. Asking the platforms to contribute a certain amount of money to a pool of funding, acknowledging additional value that they provide through their own programs, is a great place to start. How one calculates how much compensation is being asked and who gets it will be up to the country to decide.

At minimum, however, media outlets should be able to decide for themselves if they choose to participate. Bill C-18 forced media outlets to participate against their will and, as a result, helped to exacerbate the damage caused by Bill C-18. There is no opt out clause in Bill C-18 (something that independent media begged lawmakers to include, but those plea’s largely fell on deaf ears) and now small news outlets that never asked for this are getting swept into this fiasco.

Another thing is to actually acknowledge that the platforms exist and understanding how their businesses operate. It’s one thing to ask them to kick back a little funding to news publishers, but it is quite another to simply dismiss every single one of their concerns, chalk it up to being “just a bluff”, and ignore their business realities entirely. They can easily afford to drop news links. Arguably, they could globally drop news links and still carry on with little disruption. Dismissing this perspective as “shilling” for “Big Tech” is unproductive as proven in Canada.

All of that are great lessons to learn from this sorry state of affairs here in Canada. There are loads of other lessons one could learn from the failure of Bill C-18, but those are great places to start.

Ignoring all of these lessons and just pushing such ignorant legislation is a recipe for disaster for the very people your government seeks to “help”. Wick’s is clearly demonstrating what not to do in this situation. So, California will have a choice soon: either go back to the drawing board or send the California media off of the same cliff as the Canadian media got sent off of. That is the choice. For the California news sector, the hope should be that ego actually loses out in this case. Otherwise, join the club of the disastrous effect of bad lawmaking.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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