Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez came under sustained pressure from senators on Tuesday to bring clarity to the text of Bill C-11, the online streaming bill, and change a clause which YouTubers and other digital-first creators have warned could subject them to future regulation.
Mr. Rodriguez said the controversial clause – which senators said could potentially bring digital creators within its scope – is phrased to future-proof the bill and give the broadcasting regulator flexibility to adapt as Canada’s social-media landscape changes.
The minister was speaking before the Senate’s standing committee on transportation and communications, which is studying the bill.
He said Ottawa has no intention to regulate user-generated content through Bill C-11, which would modernize Canada’s broadcast laws so they apply to streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Spotify.
He said the bill needs to give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission flexibility to regulate emerging creative sectors – and not just music – on platforms in decades to come.
“It’s been 30 years to modernize this. I don’t know how many years it will take to modernize it the next time. So it has to be a bill that allows for some flexibility to the CRTC so that they can foresee other things,” he said. “Music is what we’re mostly concerned with today. But there will be other sectors that will be of interest in the future, and today.”
His remarks were seized on by YouTubers as evidence that the CRTC might in the future use the act as a springboard to impose regulations on digital creators who make a living by posting videos on platforms and get paid through sponsorship and advertising.
“While digital creators hoped Minister Rodriguez truly had been listening, I don’t think he heard a word of our concerns,” said Morghan Fortier, creator of Super Simple Songs, a preschool YouTube channel with around 30 million subscribers worldwide. “The need for ‘flexibility’ is an example of their unwillingness to amend this bill.”
Mr. Rodriguez’s remarks on the central issue of controversy in the bill came as the CRTC made a written submission to the Senate committee saying that general users, such as people posting amateur videos of dogs on platforms, would not be regulated, though other “user-uploaded programs” could come within the scope of Bill C-11.
“The CRTC does have certain powers that it can exercise in relation to user-uploaded content. The CRTC’s powers in this regard are however actually quite narrow,” the submission said, adding that, as a regulator, it would focus on the platform rather than individual programs.
The submission added that “general users of the social-media platform do not fall under the CRTC’s jurisdictions. This is because these users are deemed not to be broadcasting undertakings for the purposes of this act.”
Professor Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said the CRTC’s submission confirmed that user-generated content could be included.
“The CRTC has now confirmed multiple times – as a witness and in writing – that the bill includes the potential for user-content regulation. With that issue settled, two questions remain: Why won’t Pablo Rodriguez admit it? And what is the Senate committee studying the bill prepared to do about it?”
A string of senators, including Senator Paula Simons, told the minister that Canadians making their living posting videos on the platform wanted clarity that they would not be covered, which could be resolved by tightening the wording of an ambiguous section of the bill.
The clause excludes videos posted by people on platforms such as YouTube and TikTok for other people to watch. But a qualifying clause underneath it gives the CRTC the power to make regulations about “programs,” which YouTube says could give the CRTC scope to oversee a wider range of content, including that posted by digital creators.
One of the criteria the CRTC should take into account when making such regulations is the extent to which a program uploaded to a social-media platform generates money, the clause says.
In its briefing the CRTC says the provision “empowers the CRTC with the discretion to include certain user-uploaded programs within the scope of the act, by regulation.”
YouTube said the wording of the clause needs to be amended to explicitly rule out videos posted by digital-first creators.
“Canadian creators deserve clarity on how their online businesses could be impacted by Bill C-11. Minor amendments to the bill would provide important clarity to parliamentarians on what they are voting for or against, now and in the future,” said Jeanette Patell, YouTube’s head of Canada government affairs and public policy.
The bill would make platforms financially contribute to the creation of Canadian films, music and TV. The committee heard from a top department of heritage official that current investments in Canadian productions, for example by Netflix, would count.
Mr. Rodriguez indicated that in modernizing the definition of what counts as a Canadian movie or program, the number of Canadians working on set – including in technical positions such as grips or lighting designers – would be a factor.