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Bill C-11’s forced promotion of CanCon on online platforms ‘very risky,’ MPs hear


Critics say pushing content to viewers who aren’t interested in it will actually harm its creators, as algorithms penalize content that viewers don’t interact with

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The Liberal government’s Online Streaming Act aims to increase visibility of Canadian content on digital platforms, but the legislation could backfire and harm Canadian creators instead, MPs heard Tuesday.

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“Bill C-11 is not an ill-intentioned piece of legislation, but it is a bad piece of legislation. It’s been written by those who don’t understand the industry they’re attempting to regulate,” Morghan Fortier, CEO of Skyship Entertainment, told the House of Commons heritage committee.

“It doesn’t understand how the platforms operate.”

One of the goals of the legislation is to impose “discoverability” of Canadian content by having the CRTC require platforms to promote content from Canadians. Critics have argued that pushing content to viewers who aren’t interested in it will actually harm its creators, because the algorithms will penalize content that viewers don’t interact with.

Fortier said the focus of creators is global. “We’re the highest-viewed channel in Canada, but Canada is three per cent of our overall revenue, and that’s not because of anything other than just sheer population size,” she explained. “So in order for these platforms to actually operate successfully, global discoverability is the key for a lot of these content creators.”

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Matt Hatfield, campaign director of advocacy group OpenMedia, told the committee that any such promotional requirements should be made optional for users who want them.

“We would never tolerate the government setting rules specifying which books must be placed in front of our bookstores, but that’s exactly what the discoverability provision … of C-11 is currently doing,” he said.

“Manipulating our search results and feeds to feature content the government prefers instead of other content is gross paternalism that doesn’t belong in a democratic society.”

Irene Berkowitz, a senior policy fellow at the Toronto Metropolitan University’s Audience Lab, pointed out that on YouTube alone, 500 hours of content is uploaded every minute.

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“YouTube does know what’s uploaded in Canada. It just doesn’t know if the uploaders are Canadian, or their team. They don’t know if Canadians are uploading from any other place on earth, say a Buffalo Airbnb or a VPN,” she said.

Berkowitz argued “shoving the new into the old instantly gets absurd.”

She said that Canadians are already doing well on YouTube, with Canadians being the “number one exporters on the entire platform.”

Hatfield said there hasn’t been enough consideration of what Canadians actually want from their online services, and that what they don’t want is to have a quota imposed on what they see when they go online. If they go on a platform to look at cat videos, they don’t want a requirement that 30 per cent of those cats must be Canadian, Hatfield argued.

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“I think people have an interest in making sure that there is some support available for the production of Canadian culture, but they don’t want it crammed on them. They don’t want it forced into all their search results” or their feeds.

Hatfield pointed out that discoverability provisions could set a precedent that will harm Canadian creators if other countries follow.

“I think we need to look at not just what will happen to Canadian creators under this bill, but what will happen to their non-Canadian audiences,” he said.

“It’s very risky actually, for a small country like Canada to encourage this kind of model of prioritizing your own content. The benefits are pretty meagre if we make it work for our local content, and the risk, if a larger country like France were to do the same thing, is enormous to us.”

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Bill C-11 is the government’s second attempt to interupdate the Broadcasting Act and set up the CRTC to regulate streaming platforms. The previous version, Bill C-10, died on the order paper last year due to concerns that it would put user-generated content under the CRTC’s authority.

When Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced C-11, he said the government “fixed” those concerns, but critics have since said the way the bill is worded means user-generated content is indeed included.

Fortier pointed to testimony from CRTC chairman Ian Scott at the same committee last week, who was asked whether the bill indeed scopes in user-generated content. Scott told MPs “as constructed, there is a provision that would allow us to do it as required.” The government has maintained that the intent of the bill is not to regulate user content while Scott said last week the CRTC would not to do so, even if given that power by the legislation.

“If it truly isn’t intended to be in the bill, then it simply needs to be removed,” Fortier said. “If you don’t remove that section, you’re asking Canadians to just trust you, that you won’t misuse this far-reaching law and that future governments won’t misuse it either.”

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