Senator Paula Simons Raises Concerns About Bill C-18

Senator Paula Simons says that Bill c-18 seems to be written by people who have never used the internet.

Senator Paula Simons is, once again, speaking out against Bill C-18, Canada’s link tax legislation. Last month, Simons gave a speech where she raised a number of concerns about the bill. This includes questions about whether the money projected to come out of this bill would even properly support journalism, the risks of platforms like Google and Facebook not going along with this scheme, and whether this bill creates new dependencies and hands unprecedented power for journalistic freedom to the Canadian government through the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Recently, Senator Simons spoke to Ricochet about the bill and she had plenty to say about it. She went so far as to say that it seems like the bill was written by people who don’t use the internet:

“Are we comfortable giving unprecedented regulatory powers to the CRTC to interfere in the business of print journalism and to require mandatory media codes of ethics, given that the free press has never before been subject in any way to the authority of the CRTC?” she asked on the floor of the Senate last month.

Simons suspects that there has been little critical news coverage of the legislation because “Every newsroom is awkwardly situated. Ricochet could, in theory, benefit greatly from this bill, so how would that affect your coverage of it?” she asked.

While some individual journalists have raised serious criticisms of the bill, Simons points out that “the publications where the journalists work, however, are mostly supportive. The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CBC, Postmedia: they’ll all benefit, in some cases hugely — which makes it hard to get fair and balanced coverage, because everybody has a dog in this fight.”

“Realistically, how much will small, rural, ethnocultural, or Indigenous papers and radio stations actually benefit from this, even if they negotiate collectively?” she asked. “How much should the large players like Rogers and Bell Media be subsidized, or failing legacy firms like Postmedia, especially as it makes it harder for innovative start-ups to compete? Is it reasonable for the CBC, which is already funded by the government, to receive by far the largest share of this new money?

“What guarantees do we have that companies will spend their subsidies to increase news coverage as a net increase, as opposed to paying down debt or awarding their executives?”

Then there’s the question of what would happen down the road if Google and Facebook were no longer profitable? Simons told Ricochet that when she raised that question with staff in the Heritage ministry, she was told they “would turn to TikTok.”

“I said, ‘Wait a minute! TikTok doesn’t share news links,’” Simons recalled. “And staff said, ‘TikTok shares news stories in other ways. It talks about the news.’ I said, ‘Woah, wait a minute! That’s a fair-use argument.’…Then the official said to me, ‘Lots of Canadians get their news from TikTok.’”

Simons said the bill is based on a fundamentally flawed understanding of how the internet works.

“The whole premise of the bill is ridiculous,” she said.

The government’s position seems to be that these big tech companies are essentially “stealing” content when links to news stories are shared on Facebook or indexed by Google — that those links have value that is being denied to publishers, and that the tech companies should compensate for that lost value.

“Honest to god, I really feel like this is written by people who have never used the internet,” Simons said. “The whole point of the internet is frictionless sharing of content.”

“I have a hard time with the idea that Google and Facebook are stealing the links — links that media is begging them to take.”

There were a number of other comments she has about the bill. Indeed, a big takeaway is the idea that Senators are not all on board with this bill. This shows that this goes beyond just Conservative Senators as well.

What’s more is the fact that Senator Simons is right. It is extremely difficult to find good coverage of the bill itself. There’s been a barrage of disinformation pushed by the larger media outlets. Whether it was Big Media’s Big Lie 1.0 where the media was falsely claiming that platforms are stealing news articles, revenues, or republishing whole articles without compensation, or Big Media’s Big Lie 2.0 where Google, in response to the test they conducted where they don’t display links provided by the media outlets, is somehow blocking Canadian’s from accessing news.

As a result of this, trying to actually get good information from this debate has proven to be particularly difficult. Trying to sort out fact from fiction in stories from large media outlets with this story is almost a full time job in and of itself.

In addition, it’s actually shocking to hear that some in the government thinks that if you talk about the news, that this is somehow something that requires compensation. That alone would be a slam dunk case for any platforms to fight because any reasonable judge would look at this and conclude something along the lines of such activity being fair dealing. If anything, any effort to say that talking about content is not covered by fair dealing is a direct assault on fair dealing. The ignorance on the part of the government about copyright, let alone the basics about how the internet works, is staggering.

If there is any way to fix Bill C-18, even I’m not seeing how. Sure, you can make the bill less awful by, for instance, letting smaller outlets take advantage of an opt out clause, but even then, that is just a tiny band-aid solution to a problem that is on par with losing a limb. There are loads of websites out there (including the site that I cited in this article), that stand to lose a lot in this bill. This while potentially having no hope in receiving anything more than a small pittance that doesn’t really have an impact in the overall bottom line.

It’s very hard to say how this bill can even be fixed. It should be scrapped altogether, but if there is some way to fix the bill on a more fundamental level, then Senators are going to have to find it elsewhere. Hopefully, it’s not a fools errand, but it’s looking like it’s going to be just that at this stage.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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