Ottawa’s attempts to use proposed regulations to bring Google onside with the Online News Act have failed to satisfy the tech giant, which has warned that it could stop Canadians from searching for news on its platforms unless the government makes further changes.
The new law, also known as Bill C-18, passed in June but does not come into force until Dec. 19. It was designed to support the news industry by requiring large online tech companies to pay Canadian media outlets for using their content.
A month ago, the federal Heritage Department published proposed regulations intended to clarify how the law would work in practice, and to end a tense standoff over the law with Google and fellow tech giant Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
The proposed regulations set a $230-million cap on the amount Google and Facebook would together have to inject into Canada’s news sector. Google would have to pay $172-million of that.
But in an e-mailed statement on Monday, the final day of a month-long public consultation period on the draft regulations, Google said the government’s proposals have not fixed what it sees as fundamental flaws with the legislation. It warned that making wholesale changes to the text of the Online News Act may be the only way to address its concerns. This would require bringing the bill back to Parliament.
“Unfortunately, the proposed regulations fail to sufficiently address the critical structural problems with C-18 that regrettably were not dealt with during the legislative process,” the statement said. “We continue to have serious concerns that the core issues ultimately may not be solvable through regulation and that legislative changes may be necessary. We have been and will remain engaged and transparent with the government about our concerns and will await the publication of final regulations.”
Meta has already blocked Canadians from accessing news on its platforms, removing itself from the Online News Act’s jurisdiction.
Google has said it is planning to limit Canadians’ ability to search for news unless significant changes are made to the legislation. Earlier this year, it carried out tests that involved restricting news searches for more than one million Canadians.
Meta has declined to detail its views on the draft regulations, and has not met with the Heritage Department since the proposals were published a month ago. The company has said that the regulations would not be enough to convince it to restore Canadians’ access to news on its platforms.
Representatives of Google met with Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge on Thursday to discuss their company’s response to the regulations.
With this round of public consultations on the regulations now closed, the government will review the submissions it has received. The Heritage Department has indicated that Ottawa is open to constructive ideas for improvements.
“Canadians expect tech giants to pay their fair share for news,” said Ariane Joazard-Belizaire, a spokesperson for Ms. St-Onge.
“We look forward to reviewing the submissions.”
Google has previously expressed concern about the amount it would have to pay under the law. It has said the estimates have gone up since the bill was first discussed. And it has said it wants a clear path to avoiding being regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the regulatory agency that will oversee the Online News Act.
Under the law, the largest tech platforms that carry news would be required to strike financial deals with Canadian news outlets. But in cases where those deals can’t be reached voluntarily, the negotiations could instead be settled by mandatory arbitration involving the CRTC.
Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said this would hamper Google’s ability to make voluntary deals, because some media organizations would deliberately hold out for arbitration in hopes of securing more money. Google already has some voluntary deals in place, including with The Globe and Mail.
The CRTC is also regulating the new Online Streaming Act, also known as Bill C-11. On Friday, the agency announced that online streaming services, as well as social-media services that broadcast audio or video content, including podcasts, must register with the CRTC if they earn $10-million or more in annual revenue. The deadline for registration is Nov. 28.
The announcement provoked backlash on social media, with Elon Musk – the billionaire owner of X, formerly known as Twitter – accusing Justin Trudeau of “trying to crush free speech” in Canada. Mr. Musk condemned the move as “shameful.”
Individual people who share videos and podcasts will not have to register or provide information about their activities by the deadline, the CRTC said.