YouTube raised the stakes in the battle over Bill C-11 on Wednesday by e-mailing thousands of people who make money posting on its platform to mobilize their support to combat the online streaming bill.
As tensions mounted in Parliament over the bill, YouTube launched a campaign to reach “as many Canadians using YouTube as possible” to warn them the bill could change how the platform operates.
The letter to YouTubers from Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business operator, urges them to “create a video and/or post on your social channels about what hangs in the balance.” It also urges them to sign a petition, and share a blog from a YouTube executive warning about the impact of the bill.
The letter to YouTubers says C-11 “has the potential to put the Canadian creators who build on our platform at a significant disadvantage.” It tells them the bill is under review in the Senate “and there is still time to fix it.”
“This is an extraordinary step for us, but it’s one we regrettably feel obligated to take,” said Zaitoon Murji, a YouTube spokesperson. “Millions of Canadians who use YouTube every day aren’t aware of Bill C-11, or that the YouTube experience they know and love could drastically change as a result of this legislation.”
The tactic was sharply condemned by supporters of the bill. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said YouTube was engaged in a “little scare campaign.”
Jerome Payette, executive director of the Professional Music Publishers’ Association, said YouTube was using “fear” to quash key provisions in the draft law, which is now passing through Parliament.
Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, who is the No. 2 at the tech giant, stepped into Ottawa’s political fray on Wednesday and warned in a widely circulated blog, entitled “Canada: Keep YouTube Yours,” that the bill could force the company to manipulate its algorithm.
Mr. Mohan told The Globe and Mail from San Francisco that he had “very significant concerns” about the bill including the “insidious danger” of vaguely worded clauses. He said making the language crisper could prevent many foreseeable problems YouTube has identified.
He said YouTube remains committed to Canada and “having a constructive dialogue” with the federal government about the bill.
He said YouTube was now “raising awareness” among Canadians about the bill’s potential impact on how they use the platform.
The executive warned in his blog that in its current form C-11 could “change the personalized experience of millions of Canadians who visit YouTube every day.”
“We have a responsibility to our Canadian viewers and creators to inform them of changes to their online experience. And we think it’s worth standing up for our viewers’ interests and creators’ livelihoods,” he said.
He warned the bill could make YouTube manipulate the way it introduces viewers to videos, so they would be “served content that a Canadian government regulator has prioritized, rather than the content they are interested in.”
He predicted viewers could give Canadian videos they wouldn’t usually watch “a thumbs down” or they could skip them. This could be interpreted by YouTube’s search and discovery systems as the video not being popular, which could affect how that video is promoted on a global scale.
The bill, now in the Senate, would give the broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), new powers to regulate platforms including YouTube.
Mr. Payette, who represents francophone music publishers, said the CRTC would have no interest in meddling with user-generated content on the platform.
“I think that it is sad that they are using creators who depend on them for their lobbying. It is sad they are using fear that you could lose your revenues,” he said. “Nothing will happen to creators when this bill gets royal assent. The act does not regulate anything: the CRTC will, and the CRTC has no interest in hurting creators.”
Chris Bittle, parliamentary secretary to the Heritage Minister, said “tech giants are trying to scare Canadians, and they’re trying to scare the amazing Canadian creators that depend on their platforms.”
“They know that the bill doesn’t dictate algorithms to the platforms – it’s up to platforms themselves to decide the many ways to showcase our Canadian culture,” he said. “There are lots of ways to do that without harming our creators. It’s time for tech giants to accept that they need to pay their fair share towards our culture.”
YouTube is the most widely watched video platform with ads in Canada. More than 550 YouTube channels have more than a million subscribers.
Morghan Fortier, creator of Super Simple Songs, a preschool YouTube channel with around 30 million subscribers worldwide, said Canadian creators are doing their best “to get their voices heard and try to fix C-11.”
“YouTube audiences should have the right to choose the content they want to watch and not have that content predetermined or forced down their throats by stakeholders or regulatory bodies that somehow know what’s best for them,” she said.