Canadian film and TV producers are urging the federal government to change regulations to make it easier for them to retain the ownership of their intellectual property when they sell shows to foreign streamers such as Netflix.
The call from the Canadian Media Producers Association comes as the House of Commons continues to debate a Liberal bill that would bring online streamers under the oversight of the federal broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
Reynolds Mastin, the president of the producers’ lobby group, said Canadian content creators find themselves on an uneven playing field when they try to negotiate with large, foreign-owned streaming services.
“That streamer says, ‘Congrats, we love your show. We will pay to make your show. But we’re going to take all the rights and revenues associated with that show,’ ” Mr. Mastin said.
“The producer, if they’re lucky, becomes an employee on their own show.”
The value of film and TV production in Canada has nearly doubled in the past decade, to $9.3-billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year from $5-billion in 2009-10, according to data compiled by Nordicity for the CMPA and the Department of Canadian Heritage. But most of that growth has come from foreign location and service production, which made up 52 per cent of all spending in the sector in 2018-19 and just 30 per cent in 2009-10.
Stephen Stohn, a veteran TV producer who helmed Degrassi: The Next Generation with his wife Linda Schuyler, said the rise in location shooting in Canada is obviously good for domestic film crews. And it is driven by many factors, such as a low Canadian dollar and advantageous tax credits.
But, he argued, those gains are short-lived and end when production wraps. He said measures that boost the production of Canadian-owned shows lead to long-term benefits from a steady flow of licensing revenue over many years.
“Jobs can be created whether the producer owns the copyright or not,” Mr. Stohn said. “But when you sell internationally, the money is coming back into Canada. That’s a good thing economically.”
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s office declined to comment on the CMPA’s proposal. In House of Commons debates, however, Mr. Guilbeault has drawn a distinction between productions that are Canadian- and American-owned.
“Unless something is done, Canada will become nothing more than a production service outlet for the United States of America,” he said in the House last month. “This government does not want that.”
The CMPA is pushing for the issue to be addressed once the Liberal bill to reform the Broadcasting Act is passed in the new year. (The Liberals hold a minority government and require the co-operation of an opposition party to pass the bill; no votes have been held yet, but the NDP and Bloc Québécois have both expressed support for the bill as long as some amendments are made.)
The bill expands the powers of the CRTC so it can oversee online media platforms, such as Spotify and Disney+, but leaves the details up to the regulator to decide. Mr. Guilbeault has said that after the bill is passed, cabinet would issue a directive to the CRTC outlining how it would like the powers to be enforced and giving a nine-month deadline for the new rules to be drawn up.
Mr. Mastin said one solution would be for cabinet to instruct the CRTC to require that online streamers have clear guidelines on the terms of copyright negotiations with producers.
The proposal would address the marketplace imbalance between the small, independent producers and the large, foreign-owned tech companies. It’s similar in approach to a law that’s being debated in Australia that creates a framework for news publishers to negotiate with digital giants such as Google for their share of the online ad market. The Liberal government is considering that approach to help Canadian news companies, too.
The Liberal bill was based in large part on the recommendations of an expert panel that delivered a final report on the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review in January.
Janet Yale, a former telecom lawyer who chaired the panel, said that this negotiating problem was the “one issue in particular” that the government should have covered already but didn’t.
She said she would like to see the government give the CRTC explicit authority to order terms of trade between producers and platforms that would make negotiations more transparent.
“That imbalance in bargaining power is exacerbated when you’re talking about Canadian producers dealing with global players, who can adopt a bit more of a ‘take it or leave it’ approach,” Ms. Yale said.
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