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Online Streaming Act won’t police user-generated content: heritage minister

Bill meant to make streaming giants contribute to the creation and availability of Canadian content
Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez prepares to appear before the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications on Bill C-11, in the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canada’s heritage minister says he is open to reviewing substantiative amendments to a bill meant to regulate online streaming, after a committee pointed out industry experts disagree on whether the proposed legislation will cover user-generated content.

“I was born with an open mind, so of course, I have an open mind on this,” Pablo Rodriguez said.

“I cannot say at this moment, yes I would agree or disagree on… an amendment I have never read…On the general principal, we are open.”

His remarks on the legislation aimed at modernizing the Broadcasting Act were made Monday before a hearing of the standing committee on transport and communications held in Ottawa.

Bill C-11 is meant to require online streaming giants like YouTube and TikTok to contribute to the creation and availability of Canadian content like music, film and television.

However, the bill has generated plenty of concerns. Tech giants have fought it, arguing the bill will harm the livelihoods of users who earn money from streaming platform and could force the companies to rethink the algorithms it uses in Canada.

Several senators have qualms too. Sen. Michael MacDonald pointed out Monday that the standing committee has heard from experts concerned creators will be regulated through the bill.

Sen. Pamela Wallin added the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s commissioner previously appeared before the committee alongside legal counsel to confirm the bill would give his agency authority over user-generated content

“What they argued was, ‘it wouldn’t be in anybody’s interest to do it, so just trust us, we won’t regulate user-generated content,’ but again, twice they confirmed they have actual regulatory authority to do that,” she said.

Wallin added she has even heard from a creator who finds the legislation so confusing and unclear that she will move to the U.S. to escape it.

She and MacDonald questioned Rodriguez on whether he would step up to make changes to the bill to alleviate such concerns, but he offered no commitment because he said the legislation won’t cover user-generated content.

“The bill is quite simple. It is about platforms, it is not about users,” he said.

“There is no obligation for the creator. The obligation is only for the platform, not the creator.”

He argued the bill is meant to protect Canadian culture, deliver more choice to Canadians, meet the needs of minority-language communities and bring regulation of the industry into the 21st century.

The last time the act was modernized, he pointed out people were listening to music on Walkmans, renting films at Blockbuster and the internet barely existed.

Now, we have streaming platforms like Netflix, you can watch television on your phone and content is edited and filmed on phones, he continued.

“The act no longer reflects the reality. You have very big players that have no rules they have to abide by and there are huge challenges around culture and production and things that affect our creators and Canadian content,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important today that we be able to adopt this bill quickly.”

The bill has been before the Senate for six months and faced 42 hours of hearings before the standing committee.

—Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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