On April 5, 2022, the Canadian Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, tabled Bill C-18 (Online News Act): An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada. Bill C-18 requires digital media platforms (e.g., social media services, search engines) to compensate media outlets for news content made available on their platforms. Under Bill C-18, news content is made available if a platform reproduces news content or facilitates access to news content in any way.
Bill C-18 proposes a framework through which digital media platforms and media outlets can enter into commercial agreements regarding news content made available on digital media platforms. Specifically, the bill establishes a bargaining process for negotiating commercial agreements. Digital media platforms are permitted to create private commercial agreements with media outlets provided that fair compensation is being given to media outlets for their content. If an agreement cannot be reached, the parties would attend mediation sessions to reach an agreement. If mediation is unsuccessful, a final offer arbitration may be conducted by a panel that will issue a binding agreement for the parties. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission will oversee this bargaining process and will be responsible for initiating mediations and arbitrations.
Impact of Bill C-18
Bill C-18 has received a mixed reception from the general public.
Some politicians and media outlets have endorsed the bill and believe that compensation to media outlets is essential for ensuring the sustainability of Canada’s news sector. Digital media platforms (such as social media services) continue to dominate the online advertising market, earning a significant portion of all online advertising revenue generated yearly. Given this trend, many media outlets believe that they should be entitled to a share of the online advertising revenue generated by these platforms for their news content.
Some individuals have criticized the bill and are concerned that the bill may impose barriers to basic freedoms, such as the freedom of the press and other media of communication. This criticism arises in part due to the broad meaning given to “making available of news content”. For example, § 2(2)(b) of the bill states that news content is made available if access to the news content is “facilitated by any means”. The bill has only undergone its first reading; therefore, it is not fully clear what “facilitating” access to news may encompass, including whether it will capture hyperlinks to news content found in social media blog posts or search engines. As a result, digital media platforms should be following the evolution of this proposed legislation closely.
Bill C-18 is still in its early stages of review and is not yet law. Nevertheless, the introduction of the bill illustrates that Parliament understands and is willing to address the impact digital media platforms have had on the news sector in recent years. In the proceeding readings in Parliament, the full effects of Bill C-18 on digital media platforms and media outlets will likely be further explored.