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It’s time to fix Bill C-18

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The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is set to begin clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which is an important moment to amend and improve this legislation.

The clause-by-clause process can be difficult to follow, and we believe it is essential that we are transparent with Canadians about the amendments we have proposed and why.

Connecting people to information, including trusted and authoritative news, is a responsibility we take very seriously at Google. It’s core to our mission.

We remain fundamentally aligned with the government’s goal of promoting a sustainable future for journalism and the news in Canada. That is why we are advocating for thoughtful approaches to regulation that do not trigger unintended consequences for Canadians.

We are also very proud of the many ways that we currently support and partner with Canadian newsrooms across our products, programs and services, including through commercial agreements via Google News Showcase, our product experience and licensing program for news.

Google is deeply committed to Canada. Part of that commitment is engaging constructively, and at times critically, on regulatory initiatives when we see they will have negative impacts on the way Canadians currently engage with and enjoy our platforms and services.

We have been sharing our serious concerns about Bill C-18 for several months, including how it will result in the proliferation of misinformation and clickbait, and that the proposed framework is not actually focused on supporting local journalism, but will instead disproportionately advantage large players. Rather than stimulate much-needed innovation, it will penalize the many emerging and innovative news organizations seeking to provide quality journalism to their communities.

Some have referred to Bill C-18 as an enhanced version of the Australian model, but that fails to recognize that the substantive provisions of the Australian Code have never been applied to any platform. Google has long held that the Australian provisions are unworkable, a view that has been echoed by a number of independent experts, including the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee.

The unworkable portions of the Australian Code have not “broken the internet” because the Code hasn’t been applied and its provisions are untested, not because it was good public policy or workable legislation.

And Bill C-18 goes even further than the untested Australian model, but in the wrong direction.

C-18 includes:

  • An extremely broad definition of “eligible news business” with no obligation to follow journalistic standards;
  • A general prohibition on “undue preference” and "undue disadvantage" or "discrimination" that could effectively force platforms to prominently display misinformation; and,
  • Overriding well established copyright limitations and exceptions to justify payment for links, which is inconsistent with international copyright law and norms, and will incentivize cheap, clickbait content over quality journalism.

We do not think that these measures are in the interests of Canadians, nor are they an effective response to the unique challenges facing Canadian news publishers. As currently written, this legislation won’t strengthen or sustain the Canadian news ecosystem and will make it harder for Canadians to find and share authoritative news online.

But it is not too late to fix Bill C-18 and realign it to our shared priorities.

From the start of this process, we have been transparent and direct about our concerns with C-18. We have actively and willingly participated in the legislative process, and we have communicated constructively and intentionally with the government about the Bill’s negative impacts and our proposed solutions, including our recent testimony and submissions to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

Regrettably, the distorted and one-sided public discourse on the Bill has created expectations among some news publishers that are untethered from reality, and the legislation itself establishes a framework for bad faith bargaining.

Bill C-18 is a clear attempt to stack the deck. But this is not a game.

Whether intentional or unintentional, there are a number of aspects to this legislation that are unworkable for platforms and unreasonable from a business standpoint. Instead of taking a thoughtful and collaborative approach to finding solutions for the news industry, C-18 introduces substantial risk to its desired outcome of building a sustainable future for news—a goal we share with the government and the news sector.

We believe that any public policy approach should acknowledge that nurturing a sustainable future for public interest journalism is a shared goal and responsibility. And any regulatory framework needs to, at an absolute minimum, be clear on who it applies to and who benefits.

Without significant amendments, Bill C-18 may fail Canadians and Canadian publishers.

Three crucial ways we need to fix Bill C-18

The ‘undue preference’ provision should be removed or explicitly limited to only prohibit “unjust discrimination” and not apply to standard ranking or recommendation activities.
The definition of "eligible news business" should follow the established criteria of the Qualified Canadian Journalism Organization (QCJO) and require membership in the National News Media Council of Canada.
And the government should revise the bill to  help drive commercial agreements, and remove the specification around payments for ‘making news content available.’ This eliminates payment for links, and puts the focus on reaching mutually beneficial agreements.

It is time to fix Bill C-18 - before it’s too late.