The Liberal government has introduced a new version of its controversial legislation aimed at regulating online broadcasts and said the updated bill would not apply to social-media users, individual content creators or influencers.
The Online Streaming Act is a reboot of the Liberal government’s broadcasting legislation, which failed to pass the Senate last year before Parliament dissolved ahead of the federal election. The legislation aims to level the playing field so that streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, would fall under some of the rules that apply to traditional broadcasters, including a requirement to contribute to the creation of Canadian content.
The former iteration of the legislation, known as Bill C-10, generated considerable controversy last year in the previous Parliament. Conservative MPs and some policy experts said the proposals would impose excessive government interference online. The Liberals say they address those concerns in their new version of the proposed legislation, known as Bill C-11.
“We listened, especially to the concerns around social media, and we fixed it,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said shortly after the bill was tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday. “No users, no online creators will be regulated. No digital-first creators, no influencers, no cat videos. Only the companies themselves will have new responsibilities.”
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 to 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. The NDP and Bloc Québécois were generally supportive of the bill in the previous Parliament, siding with the arts sector.
The Canadian Media Producers Association welcomed the new version of the bill Wednesday. President and CEO Reynolds Mastin said the organization will consult with members as it takes a deeper look at the legislation.
“The Online Streaming Act must ensure that Canada’s indie producers have a fair opportunity to negotiate with content buyers to own, control and monetize the intellectual property that they develop and produce,” Mr. Mastin added.
Last year, the Conservatives took issue with a Liberal amendment to Bill C-10 that removed a section that provided an exclusion for user-generated content. The Liberals said at the time that they were aiming to fix a loophole that could have allowed platforms featuring user-generated content, such as YouTube, to avoid regulation, while similar services such as Spotify would have been regulated.
The amendment set off concerns among the Conservatives that the legislation could be used by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate Canadians’ social-media content and threaten free speech. They said that by removing the exemption, the legislation could apply to videos that people upload to sites such as TikTok.
The Liberals responded last year by introducing a new amendment to Bill C-10 that they said would put the Conservatives’ free-speech questions to rest, by moving the text to a different section of the bill defining the regulatory powers of the CRTC.
The Justice Department later concluded that the previous bill and its amendments did not infringe on freedom of expression.
Last week, Conservative heritage critic John Nater sent a letter to Mr. Rodriguez calling on the Liberal government to halt its plans to reintroduce the bill.
“Canada’s Conservatives support protecting Canadians on the internet and creating a level playing field between large foreign streaming services and Canadian broadcasters, but not at the cost of Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms. If these concerns have not been addressed in this reintroduced legislation we will oppose it with every tool available,” Mr. Nater said in a statement Wednesday prior to the bill’s tabling.
The Conservatives did not immediately respond to a query about whether the new proposed legislation addresses their concerns.
Opinions on the bill’s implications have varied widely, owing in part to the fact that many of the details as to how the rules would apply in practice would be decided by the CRTC after the fact. For instance, Mr. Rodriguez said Wednesday that he will be asking the CRTC to update its definition of Canadian content.
Bloc Québécois heritage critic Martin Champoux said the party is happy the government listened to its request to retable the bill and will study the details in the coming days.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.