Online streaming has changed how we create, discover, and consume our culture, and it’s time we updated our system to reflect that according to the Canadian government. Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, tabled an updated Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act today after the previous legislation didn’t pass. Bill C-11 critics said it hindered users’ Charter rights while lacking clarity for content creators. The government said they aimed to update the legislation to more fairly reflect the intent.
The Government of Canada introduces legislation intended to support next generation of Canadian artists and creators
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said at a press conference Wednesday that “cat videos” or social-media “influencers” would not be covered by the bill. The bill does not apply to individual Canadians, but it will apply to streaming platforms that broadcast commercial programs. It would require those platforms to contribute to the creation of Canadian series, music and movies. It would make sure that programs are showcased to Canadians.
Heritage said, “For decades, Canadian broadcasters have invested in and introduced us to the incredible Canadian programs that so many of us love. We are updating our laws so online streamers have to contribute in a similar and equitable way. The Online Streaming Act does just that. It brings online broadcasters under similar rules and requirements as our traditional broadcasters.”
The latest bill “levels the playing field” by making US streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime contribute to the production of Canadian content.
The bill doesn’t come without heavy critics in Canada. Law Professor & Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law and Internet freedom advocate, Michael Geist, asks “Why does the government insist again on saying that no users will be regulated, when the concern has always been that their content could be treated as a “program” subject to CRTC regulation?” Geist maintains the CRTC can now carve out new powers to regulate user generated content and social media.
If passed, streaming services, such as Netflix, Crave and Spotify, would be regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and required to invest in Canadian cultural enterprises.
Key features of the proposed February Bill C-11 indicated by the government include:
In the last Parliament, there was debate about the role of social media services in supporting Canadian artists and culture. The re-introduced bill balances two objectives. On the one hand, it captures commercial programs regardless of how they are distributed, including on social media services. On the other hand, the proposed bill is also clear that the regulator does not have the power to regulate Canadians’ everyday use of social media, including when they post amateur content to these services. The proposed bill does not apply to Canadian users or individual creators.
The re-introduced bill also corrects drafting errors, including but not limited to placement and numbering of provisions.
Confirming that online broadcasting—commonly referred to as streaming—is covered under the Act.
- Currently, online services that deliver audio and audiovisual content over the Internet are exempt from most regulation. The proposed bill clarifies that major online streaming services are subject to the Act and are required to contribute to supporting Canadian culture.
- Many social media services are engaged in online broadcasting. The proposed bill requires them to contribute when commercial programs, such as music albums, are uploaded and distributed on their platforms. However, the proposed bill clearly specifies that it does not apply to individual users of social media services or amateur programs uploaded by those users. No users or online creators will be regulated; only the platforms themselves will have an obligation to our culture.
Updating the broadcasting and regulatory policies for Canada
- Key elements of the broadcasting policy for Canada are updated to be more inclusive of all Canadians.
- The proposed bill recognizes that the Canadian broadcasting system should, through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests of all Canadians—including Francophones and Anglophones, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, Canadians from official language minority communities, Canadians from racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and ages.
- Programming that reflects Indigenous cultures in Canada should be provided within the Canadian broadcasting system. The proposed bill secures a space for both Indigenous programming and media services in the Canadian broadcasting system.
- The proposed bill reinforces the commitment to official language minority communities and the production and broadcasting of original programs in French on all types of services and platforms.
- The proposed bill promotes greater accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Creating a more flexible approach to regulation and sustainable funding for Canadian stories
- The proposed bill facilitates a flexible approach to regulation, which will allow the regulator to tailor the conditions of service and other regulatory requirements imposed on broadcasters by considering the Act’s policy and regulatory objectives, the variety of broadcasters in the system (and the differences between them), and what is fair and equitable depending on the circumstances.
- The proposed bill provides the regulator with express powers to require broadcasting undertakings, including online undertakings, to make financial contributions to Canadian programs and creators.
- The regulator would not control what you can or cannot see on social media. To that end, the regulator would only prescribe certain outcomes, not how they are achieved. For example, the regulator would not be able to impose specific algorithms or source code. They will work with the streaming companies to contribute to our cultural policy objectives.
Modernizing the regulator’s oversight and enforcement powers
- The proposed bill ensures that the regulator has the tools it needs as a modern regulator to collect information from stakeholders. It also ensures that commercially sensitive information that is collected by the regulator in the course of its proceedings is properly protected.
- The proposed bill provides the regulator with new enforcement powers through an administrative monetary penalty scheme (AMPs), which aligns the regulator enforcement powers with how it regulates telecommunications and spam.