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Google Canada’s testimony on Bill C-18, the Online News Act

Editor's Note: Below are Google Canada's prepared remarks delivered to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage study of Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada [Bill C-18]

Madame Chair, members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to participate in your study of Bill C-18.

Access to authoritative news is critical for democracy and core to our mission at Google. For twenty years, we’ve been helping Canadians find the answers to what they are searching for online, including relevant and authoritative news content.

Connecting people to news is a responsibility we take very seriously.

Let me be absolutely clear, Google shares your goal of supporting a sustainable future for journalism and the news in Canada. This includes thoughtful approaches to regulation, and continuing to provide meaningful contributions - financial and otherwise.

Our concerns with C-18 are serious. So is our commitment to working with government and the news industry on solutions.

In its current form, C-18 will make it harder for Canadians to find and share trusted and authoritative news online. It will also have, at best, unpredictable outcomes for the evolving Canadian news ecosystem.

We have four principal concerns with C-18.

  • The Bill includes an “undue preference” provision that prohibits a platform from “disadvantaging” any eligible news business. We appreciate the desire to prevent a platform from retaliating against a publisher, but that’s not what this language does. Under threat of legal action - this measure will restrict Google and other platforms from applying policies and providing features that elevate trusted information sources over lower quality content. This makes Search less relevant and less safe for Canadians. It is essential that the “undue preference” language be amended.
  • Unlike the Australian code, C-18 defines Eligible News Businesses extremely broadly, and does not require a publisher to adhere to basic journalistic standards. This will lead to the proliferation of misinformation and clickbait. Combined with the “undue preference” provision, this means Canadians could be served foreign propaganda outlets alongside reporting from Le Devoir or the Globe and Mail. Under similar language in Germany, dubious news sources complained, during the height of the COVID pandemic, that we discriminated against them by showing authoritative government health information higher on our Search results page - above links to their sites. And a German media regulator agreed. The government’s existing framework of “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations” is a model that should be built-upon, not undercut.
  • Payment for links - The internet is built on the principle of freely linking between websites. We all find information, products and services by clicking through links. Businesses, including news businesses, want to be found by Canadians via Search. Google sends billions of visits to Canadian news publishers a year — at no cost to them — helping them grow their readership, subscriber base, build trust with readers, and make money. Including payment for links repeats the mistakes other jurisdictions have backed away from, it violates global copyright norms and local legal precedent including by the Supreme Court in Crookes.Payment for links also incentivizes cheap, low quality, clickbait content over public interest journalism. And clearly favours large publishers over small, as they simply have more content to link to.
  • As small and independent news publishers have warned, C-18 lacks transparency and benefits large, legacy publishers over small - because they can afford the regulatory cost. This is why we support the concept of a fund, similar to the Canada Media Fund, which would resolve the issues we have raised and would ensure a diversity of Canadian news publishers receive money in a timely, equitable and transparent manner.

This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.

Legislation that actively supports diversity and inclusivity, and ensures that financial contributions go to support thoughtful, local journalism.

Legislation that recognizes the full value exchange that already occurs between platforms and publishers, and is laser focused on supporting an innovative, diverse and sustainable Canadian news ecosystem for the long-term.

C-18 is not that legislation.

I want to reiterate, Google shares your goal of supporting a sustainable future for journalism and the news in Canada.

In its current form, we do not think the measures enacted by C-18 are in the interests of Canadians, nor are they an effective response to the unique challenges facing Canadian news publishers.

I hope to respond to some core misconceptions about C-18 - and misrepresentations about our relationship with the news - that have been presented to this Committee over the course of your initial meetings.

What you have been told about Australia, for example, is not grounded in the facts.

The bottom line for us is that Canadians deserve better than what we see in C-18 - which, to be frank, is simply bad public policy.

Thank you again for the invitation to appear. I look forward to your questions.