Le Devoir Admits There was Never Theft of News, Worries About Bill C-18 Implications

A third news organization pushing Bill C-18 is now worried about the implications of the bill should link blocking happen.

The panic over what will happen with the Online News Act (formerly Bill C-18) is continuing. Throughout the debate, critics had long argued that the bill is bad. They pointed out that linking to news articles isn’t “theft”, the value news websites get from free traffic is huge, platforms do not depend exclusively on news content, and, most importantly, pushing such a law would encourage the platforms to dropping news links altogether, causing significant damage to the world of journalism as a whole. In response, supporters of the then-bill accused critics and news sources like us of anything from being on the take, being a paid shill for big tech, “not news“, spreading disinformation, and being a part of the far right hell bent on destroying journalism among other things.

The thing is, reality doesn’t care what you believe. It just does what it does. People like us try to read in to what is really happening and model projections based on what is true. Despite the labels, political affiliation matters little to people like us. If a party is pushing good policies or pushing back against bad policies, that’s what we are happy to analyze. The truth is what we value more than anything else. Sometimes, it results in hard feelings and even people blocking me on various social media platforms for the crime of being “stupid”, but that’s the price you pay for standing up to the truth.

In the last few weeks, it seems that reality is setting in for even the supporters of the Online News Act. The media isn’t exactly unanimously celebrating the passage of the legislation as much as they probably thought they would back when this was in the early stages of the lawmaking process. In the leadup to the final passage of Bill C-18, Meta announced that news link support will be ending in Canada before the bill takes effect.

The media had, in fact, asked Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez what the fallback plan is in this event. The minister had no answers. So, the media escalated these questions by asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau was equally at a loss for answers. The lack of answers clearly began having an effect on the outlook of this legislation.

Already, the Globe and Mail expressed some concerns about what outcomes could be in store for the legislation. Bell, meanwhile, decided not to wait around and slashed 1,300 jobs and shuttered 9 radio stations. This as one of Bell’s officials admitted that Bill C-18 won’t have the effect they thought it would. To add insult to injury, after the bill passed, Bell applied to eliminate cancon quota’s and local journalism requirements as a condition of their licensing – foreshadowing even deeper cuts in the future as well.

Moreover, even the government might be finally realizing that actions have consequences. As we noted yesterday, the government has suddenly opened communication lines with the platforms and are in last ditch effort talks to convince the platforms to hold off on blocking news links. So, clearly, the government is now engaging in an effort to salvage the situation before the disastrous effects of news links blocking takes hold. By some accounts, these talks are the only reason why the platforms haven’t blocked news links entirely by now.

Now, another media outlet has come out and made some pretty big admissions. That is French media organization, La Devoir. Michael Geist noted the admission and made some pretty understandable comments in the situation:

Buyer’s remorse on Bill C-18? Editorial admits there is no theft of news content on Facebook and comes to realization that removal of news sharing from the platform may not be a bluff.
Link to the full editorial here

Norman Spector appears to have offered a translated summary for the article:

Editorial: The media have won, but at what cost?
Le Devoir has a particular view of the legislative framework. We have publicly supported the bill, although over the years we have duly negotiated contractual agreements with Meta, Google, Apple and Microsoft. We deplored the tone of the message that the media and political world conveyed, according to which they have “stolen” our content, whereas we knowingly choose to make it available to them, which we need to do to reach digital readers.
We have insisted on not sacrificing the relationship of complementarity and co-dependency between the platforms and the media. Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne introduced an amendment late in the day for C-18 to recognize the value that media get from using the platforms to increase their own traffic and revenue. Her proposal was snubbed by the Trudeau government…
The media have won against Google and Meta, but at what cost? This may all be a big Meta bluff, as in Australia. We will know soon enough. With the rise of AI to generate content on the cheap and to power search engines, the global fatigue with news content, the radical transformation of news consumption habits, the possibility that Google, and above all Meta, can do without journalistic content to achieve their ends is less far-fetched than it once seemed.” #cdnpoli #cdnmedia

Indeed, it is a pretty big admission that the whole idea that platforms are “stealing” news articles by allowing links to them. For most people who have a half understanding of how the internet works, this is a pretty obvious point to make, but seeing such and admission from a large supporter of the legislation is a pretty big one.

As I have said all along, if the platforms were well and truly “stealing” news articles and making money off it, Canada already has laws dealing with it. It’s called the “Copyright Act”. So, if the big publishing organizations thought that the platforms were stealing from them, then they can file a copyright infringement lawsuit. Canada even has statutory damages to boot, so a reward of hundreds of millions of billions of dollars would be more than sufficient to satisfy what “harm” they have claimed. Why don’t they do this? Because there is no theft in the first place. Linking isn’t theft and the links are more often then not posted by the vary organizations making these complaints in the first place. Heck, some organizations even pay the platforms to “steal” their content to boot to ensure visibility of their content. It’s not hard to sift through Facebook transparency reports to find that information.

It’s a pretty safe bet that large media outlets are getting really nervous about what the news blockage could entail. Even we don’t know what it will fully look like. Yes, there will probably be notices saying that an effort to post a link is blocked on Facebook (in fact, this is what happened in Australia before last ditch efforts managed to pull things from the brink). Does that also mean older posts with news links will be hidden? Maybe.

What about Google? Google News will probably shut down. The real question in our minds is whether whole domains would just get blocked wholesale in search or not. After all, the law doesn’t necessarily distinguish between services that exclusively showcases news links and just normal search. While it seems a bit extreme to think that Google will just block the whole domain entirely, it’s impossible to say for certain that this is a road they wouldn’t travel down in an effort to comply with the law either. In that nightmare scenario, it isn’t really clear if Freezenet, as a website, has much of a future. So, we are hoping that this isn’t the case (or maybe we are small enough to fly under the radar or be classified as a blog instead of a news source or maybe because we aren’t necessarily “eligible” as per Section 27 that maybe we would get left alone.)

At any rate, it seems more and more are starting to realize that “finding out” is very real. Right now, everyone in the news is hanging by a thread thanks to the last ditch talks between the platforms and the government. The chances of success are rather low given the history of the government refusing to listen (or even outright attacking) the platforms. Meta has already expressed skepticism that these talks will go anywhere too. After all, the key aspect in all of this is business uncertainty and its hard to offer that as some sort of back room deal at the last minute since it’s more than a little possible that the government can later change their mind on things.

We are well and truly sitting with a last minute Hail Mary shot. It’s all that’s left stopping catastrophe, triggering a massive media crisis in the country as a result. the only silver lining here is that some hardcore supporters are realizing that maybe people like us were right all along.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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