Why Bill C-11 is 1970’s Thinking Applied to 2022

Bill C-11 has got a lot of things wrong. One less talked about way is how it doesn’t acknowledge how content is created.

Bill C-11 is a looming disaster on many fronts. What it means for creativity, expression, the free and open Internet, the usefulness of larger platforms, and self employment are all examples of what it would negatively impact.

There are many aspects of this law that show just how ill conceived the law is. From the very beginning, back when it was first proposed as Bill C-10, the major goal was to apply broadcasting rules to the Internet and expecting that to go over well. Obviously, that kind of thinking was doomed to fail from the outset. Broadcast television is a passive experience where content is streamed to the viewer and the viewer simply accepts what is shown on screen. Meanwhile, the Internet is an active experience. Anyone can create content, share thoughts, and a whole lot more. So, it is obvious to just about everyone outside of those writing the bill that this was never going to work.

Of course, as we know, what we know today as Bill C-11 goes far beyond the terrible thinking that what can apply to broadcast TV can simply be shifted to the Internet and everything will be fine. Examples include how it would implement an archaic system demanding platforms to show government handpicked content, shut out large swaths of the Canadian creativity community, favour only the largest of players, and effectively ruin the user experience in the process.

Recently, Michael Geist posted about a number of the faults of bill C-11. Really, one could write an encyclopedia about why Bill C-11 is problematic. Geist identifies three ways that Bill C-11 defenders try and promote the legislation: through the lenses of economics, culture, and intellectual property. While these are three big themes we’ve seen among the few very vocal supporters of bill C-11, and Geist does a great job at examining why these are all based on faulty logic, we’d like to propose a fourth lens: protectionism.

Indeed, few people would argue against the idea that this is a very protectionist bill. After all, the goal, however poorly it does this, is to protect Canadian business. This does sound like a simple mixture of the aforementioned three lenses, however, this winds up being its own distinct method of trying to defend Bill C-11.

Bill C-11 defenders, as we’ve seen already, often try and say how the legislation is about protecting and supporting Canadian creators. There’s plenty of examples of this, one of which you can read on Cartt. The broad stroke defence we’ve seen is that the legislation is about protecting and promoting Canadian creators. However, if you actually read the legislation, it becomes very apparent just how misleading this broad stroke defence actually is. Just look at Section 4.1(2) and 4.2.

Like so much else out there, the devil really is in the details. While it always sounds nice to say that you are wanting legislation that supports the creators, the legislation is very specifically targeting very specific creators, rather than just anyone who creates content. The qualification process to simply be defined as Canadian is so archaic, that Freezenet would never qualify despite being completely staffed by Canadian’s.

In fact, a recent “commentary” by one supporter went so far as to say that qualifying for support is easy and any creator is encouraged to get on board with these programs. The rules, which the author cited, also say that you must already be a company in order to even start thinking about how you are qualified to obtain any benefit from the program.

… and there in lies the rub.

The big disconnect between supporters and people who know how the real world works is what is even considered a Canadian “creator” in the first place. For many supporters, they rely on what can be described as 1970’s thinking. In a world where the Internet is not even close to being widely adopted, to be a creator, you need to have a full crew of people. You need editors, camera crew, actors, and, of course, financial backing. This before you even think about distributing content which requires the blessing of a large broadcasting channel or studio distribution network. Indeed, for a large swath of the creative community who is trying to make it in a motion picture sense, this was what was needed to reach a wider audience.

Of course, the world has dramatically changed since the 1970’s. We live in a world of Internet connectivity, entertainment on demand, global distribution networks, and, of course, a world where tools to create are more readily available than ever before. The changes are fundamental and opened up whole audiences to people who would otherwise never have gotten access to them.

A single person can produce a video with a cheap camera, upload it to the Internet and potentially be seen by millions of people around the world. In fact, there are plenty of big names in the creativity community that got their start with a simple camera and a YouTube channel, for instance. Linus Tech Tips, for instance, started with just a camera and himself. Mr. Beast started by making video game commentaries and used a camera on a cell phone to make video’s. While these are humble beginnings, both channels ended up becoming big names with whole companies behind them. What’s worth pointing out is how these kinds of humble beginnings are actually quite normal in this day and age.

Of course, the success stories are, at best, the only ones that Bill C-11 even envisions. Big channels that have a company behind them might be harmed by the legislation, but they would have no problem surviving the changes. After all, if Linus Tech Tips needed to jump through a few regulatory hoops to have his content be considered Canadian, he could probably find a way with the resources that he has. The problem is if you don’t have those kinds of resources – which is a vast majority of what Canadian channels are these days.

Smaller channels already have enough problems as it is. Whether it is the lack of resources to produce professional grade quality content or the manpower to produce content regularly or even fighting with algorithms to make sure their voices are heard in a very crowded field of creators, the smaller creators have a lot that they need to navigate if they want to even see any remote chances of success. The last thing they need is a Canadian government throwing more obstacles in their path by pushing their content down. Google, of course, knows all too well what impact this legislation would have on Canadian creators.

All of this boils down to this: who is really being protected by bill C-11 here? The legislation itself and the rules surrounding being qualified as Canadian certainly points to how it would only benefit the largest of players. In fact, the politicians themselves who are promoting this legislation don’t know how online creators would benefit from the legislation. It is clear that the people who stand to gain from the legislation and the ones who would actually benefit from this are those at the very top. We’re talking about the big broadcasters like CBC, CTV, and Global to name a few. If we are lucky, the biggest producers of content on sites like YouTube and TikTok might be able to squeeze themselves in. As for the rest? As far as supporters are concerned, they are not real creators anyway.

The real problem here is how much this aspect alone damages the ecosystems set up on sites like YouTube and TikTok. If we are, by law, privileging only those at the very top, it creates a break between those top producers and everyone else. You are either a really large player making millions already or someone who is just destined to only scrape together a dozen or so views every few months. The Canadian government is mandating that those who could one day be big players should be suppressed because the big players are the ones that must take the lions share of the views under any and all circumstances.

This essentially breaks the chain of going from a small independent player to a super star. It’s cliche that someone wants to make it big by “going viral” as the traditional broadcasters put it. The thing is, this always holds a promise that anyone has a chance to make it big if they can find a way to break through from the rest and produce something people want to see. It draws in numerous people into the fold because there is always that possibility. What happens when you eliminate that possibility? There is less incentive for those who are producing content. What’s more is that it creates the thinking that you only produce video’s because you enjoy it since you’ll never find success like in the old days.

This is the side of the content creation cycle that the supporters of the legislation either don’t understand or don’t care to understand. For them, you only count as a creator if you already have hundreds of thousands in venture capital backing you. If you aren’t a corporation, then you obviously aren’t really a “true” creator. For them, the only creators that matter are the ones at the very top of the food chain. For them, those are the only creators that actually exist. So, when they say that they are in this debate to support “Canadian creators”, that is who they are actually talking about. Not the teenager making videos on his iPhone, but the companies that have already found success at one point in the past.

This is the kind of protectionism that is being sought through bill C-11. It’s not so much protecting Canadian culture or Canadian creators, but protecting the largest players at the very top. It’s about protecting the status quo. The Internet, as everyone knows, is very disruptive in many aspects and supporting new players in content creation is no exception. For supporters, this legislation is about ending that disruption from this aspect on the Internet. For them, the “wrong” people are winning and this legislation is really about correcting this by making it impossible for just anyone becoming successful. That is the kind of protectionism we Canadian’s can really do without.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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