Editorial: Bill C-18 has many consequences

If you read the news from online sources, and rely on online giants like Google and Facebook for that news, soon you will not be getting the full picture. These two companies announced last week that they will soon begin to block news links and posts for their Canadian users from Canadian media sources. Their action is in response to Bill C-18, the Online News Act, having been signed into law June 22.

C-18 is a comprehensive legislation package that requires internet companies like Facebook and Google to pay for sharing news content from Canadian media organizations. This covers newspapers like the Toronto Star, Postmedia’s network of newspapers, and even The Leader. The legislation spells out a process for which these internet providers must negotiate a fair price for content distributed online by these large corporations and is modelled after Australian legislation from 2021.
Companies like Facebook and Google argue that they should not have to pay to distribute Canadian media organizations’ stories that are freely shared online already by those media companies. The sharing of news stories on your Facebook feed or Google search engine results provides a financial benefit for the Canadian media companies by giving a wider distribution channel than the media companies could attain on their own. The online giants are not wrong in that assertion. They also are not on the right side of this either.

Tech companies like Facebook, and more so Google, use their automated software to scour the internet for information from many online sources. There are not many websites in the world these companies do not sweep through to build their knowledge base. Internet users rely on these tech giants to have up-to-date information and those companies make money from advertising when users click on ads. Media companies do not see any of the ad revenue from those results. In fact, depending on the online platform, the media company’s own information is viewed through Facebook or Google with their own company’s advertising diminished or erased altogether. The actions by these tech companies is akin to taking a photograph of a Group of Seven painting at a gallery, and selling that photograph several times over – the artist sees no financial compensation for the creative work.

To be clear, C-18 is an imperfect piece of legislation. In a global internet network, tech companies cannot be forced to negotiate with Canadian news outlets. Given Canada’s population (40 million) compared to other much larger markets, the absence of Canadian news shared through online platforms like Facebook and Google is but a drop of water in a giant ocean of content. Canadian media companies and their lobbying groups like News Media Canada put far too much trust in the hope that tech giants would negotiate fair use agreements, rather than cut bait and run. Tech giants have started for the door. However, out of these changes there are opportunities for Canadian news consumers.

According to a recent News Media Canada survey, 83 per cent of Canadians read the news weekly. That means over 33 million Canadians each week seek news via their phone, computer, in print, or by other means. Canadians value the news. Those consumers can rely on their own ability to find the credible news sources they wish to read, not an algorithmic display by a computer of possible interests that companies like Facebook and Google provide by sifting through your personal data to do so. Those tech giants may not provide a link to your favourite news sources, but those sources did not disappear. Canadian news websites still exist, just as print copies of your favourite newspapers do. Readers may rely on their own personal choice or “algorithms” to select the news available to them, including The Leader – which is available in-stores each Wednesday, and online at www.morrisburgleader.ca – thank you for supporting news media in your community.

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