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Michael Geist, law professor and Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said Bill C-11 gives the CRTC enormous power to regulate everything from podcasts to TikTok videos.Jenny Kane/The Associated Press

The arts sector is welcoming the Liberal government’s proposed new broadcasting legislation, urging its swift passage, but critics remain unconvinced the bill adequately addresses concerns about excessive government interference online.

The Online Streaming Act, tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday, is a reboot of the Liberal’s Bill C-10, which failed to pass the Senate last year before Parliament dissolved ahead of the federal election. The arts sector says the new legislation would help level the playing field so that streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify, would fall under some of the rules that apply to traditional broadcasters, including a requirement to contribute to the creation of Canadian content.

“If we want to have all the huge hits and the global artists that are so successful in the future, we really think that they need a Canadian music industry to grow in and I think that this bill is going to be a step in the right direction for that,” said Jennifer Brown, CEO of the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN).

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However, Michael Geist, law professor and Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said the new legislation, Bill C-11, gives the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) enormous power to regulate everything from podcasts to TikTok videos. He disagreed with Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s assertion last week that the updated legislation would not regulate user-generated content.

“I was hopeful when he said it but then somewhat disappointed when I took a look at the actual text of the bill,” Prof. Geist said. “They’ve gone some way to address some of the issues but the bill clearly leaves the door open to CRTC regulations in user-generated content.”

The CRTC is an independent administrative tribunal charged with supervising and regulating many activities of Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications sectors.

Prof. Geist, who also criticized Bill C-10, said an exception written into the new bill gives the CRTC the power to use broad criteria to determine if content uploaded to a social-media service is considered a “program.” The criteria consider three things: the extent to which the content uploaded to a social media directly or indirectly generates revenue; if the program has been broadcast by an undertaking that is licensed or registered with the CRTC; and if the program has been identified under an international standards system.

Prof. Geist says that if the CRTC determines user-generated content is a program, it could be subject to regulations requiring platforms to contribute to the production of Canadian cultural industries and enhance “discoverability” so that consumers can find Canadian content.

For instance, Conservative heritage critic, John Nater, said his party is concerned that an up and coming musician who uploads their music video to YouTube in an effort to get exposure could get caught up in the proposed CRTC regulations if they make money from the video.

“If some of these content rules go into place, that’s going to all of a sudden capture them under the CRTC regulatory regime and may mean that their content won’t be getting out there,” Mr. Nater said

He said the government needs to clarify the regulatory rules for the CRTC to ensure creators aren’t “punished.”

The legislation proposes changes to the 1991 Broadcasting Act, which is aimed at promoting and developing Canadian producers and creators. The act has not been updated for the internet age, so streaming services don’t have to abide by the same rules as traditional broadcasters.

Advocates say the bill will help ensure Canadian artists are properly supported as movies, music and television shows are increasingly available on streaming services. This is of particular concern in Quebec, where the protection of culture and the promotion of French-language content is a prominent policy issue.

According to SOCAN, for every dollar in music licences from Canadian television and radio broadcasters, around 34 cents is distributed to Canadian songwriters and composers. On the other hand, for every licence dollar from online music streaming, only 10 cents remains in Canada. Ms. Brown said the bill will help correct that inequity, although she doesn’t expect streaming service distributions will ever totally equal those from traditional broadcasting.

The Canadian Media Producers Association, the Directors Guild of Canada, and Music Publishers Canada also expressed support for the bill.

Last week, Bloc Québécois heritage critic Martin Champoux said the party is happy the government listened to its request to retable the bill. He said his party is in favour of the bill in principle, but will study the details to ensure it meets the expectations of the cultural sector.

The NDP did not respond to The Globe and Mail’s request for comment about the new bill, but was generally supportive of Bill C-10 in the previous Parliament.

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