Open Media Releases FAQ on Canada’s Link Tax Bill (C-18)

With so much misinformation being pumped out by the government, Open Media decided to release an FAQ about Bill C-18.

It seems that misinformation about Canada’s war on the Internet comes out on a weekly basis. Often, these waves of misinformation come in with recycled talking points easily debunked. Then, a few weeks later, the same talking points get touted again as if digital rights advocates have short term memory problems. In reality, it’s probably a sign that government and its supporters have long ago ran out of lies to sell their attacks on the Internet.

One of the big bills attacking the open Internet is link taxes. Known as Bill C-18, it demands larger platforms and aggregators to pay for the privilege of sending traffic to media outlets. At the same time, it privileges only the biggest publishers while disadvantaging the smaller players. This isn’t just wild conspiracy theories, it’s all there directly in the text of the bill.

So far, we’ve seen big publishing pump out misleading comments about the legislation. At the same time, those same outlets also wound up suppressing articles that raise important questions about the legislation. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from asking critical questions about the legislation. We also had no problem reporting on how the government was heavily lobbied by an industry claiming to be poor and hard done by.

Still, the arguments against Bill C-18 still stand as far as we are concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it. Open Media has published an FAQ talking about the legislation. The organization describes the legislation as a shakedown:

As the government describes it, news is in crisis because online platforms are ‘stealing’ news content from news producers. Heroic news companies are being denied advertising revenue that ought to be theirs when small news ‘snippets’ appear alongside links to their content on online platforms – 40-50 words, a thumbnail, and a header.

Here’s the problem: this simply isn’t true.

First, online platforms are not stealing news content from news companies. It is news companies themselves who post their articles on online platforms the most; they voluntarily encourage the spread of their content on social platforms, and they could easily block their articles from being shared on platforms if they wished to do so.

In reality, news snippets actually drive considerable advertising revenue to news organizations, and give little in return to platforms. News snippets themselves are not full articles, just teasers for them. Snippets are bait that drives clicks, and when users click through a link to a news article, all of the ad revenue on the news website goes to that news organization. Platforms are already liable for copyright violation if they post news articles, and when they do, they almost always pay the authors.

Second, there’s not all that much news-associated ad revenue to begin with. News links are a very small percentage of the overall content platform users share; the real money-maker is YOU. The more users on a platform, the more platforms benefit from their users’ interactions. And most of us, most of the time, are reading and posting non-news content – jokes, interactions with our friends and family, memes, classifieds, personal updates and so on.

That’s actually not a new pattern. Even in the heyday of 20th-century news, news production itself was not lucrative – or even necessarily profitable. Before the Internet became dominant, that was fine – newspapers and broadcast stations were central community information sharing hubs with many functions, such as advice, weather, entertainment, commentary, classifieds, and more. Notice something? Today the Internet fulfills most of these functions more quickly and effectively, using the endless library of search engines, specialized online services and communities, and the personal connection functions of social media.

We can’t turn back the clock on the Internet; few people want the old centralized information system back, and trying to force advertising revenue back into a version of the old model is doomed to fail and will produce many new problems.

The FAQ goes on to explain why this legislation is, in fact, a link tax, why this legislation is a threat to journalism, and why it bolsters the larger outlets while letting smaller, local journalism outlets, languish.

It’s comforting to know that there are others out there that get it. It’s not just us and Michael Geist pointing out just why the link tax legislation is bad. Yes, we technically have skin in the game, but then again, you could say the same thing about huge swaths of outlets and readers alike. If you want a third party perspective that is not Freezenet, it’s right there.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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