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No room for Canadian content rules online, Google warns MPs

Google Inc. has a message for MPs - don't try to regulate the net.

A Commons committee that includes grey-haired MPs who candidly admit to knowing little about YouTube, let alone the latest web trends, has launched a wide-ranging study of "new media." They got a clear warning yesterday that Canadian content rules have no place online.

The Heritage Committee plan to meet Thursday to narrow the focus of their study. Members acknowledged they are not sure where this review will take them, so they invited Google Inc. to suggest the possible issues they should explore and the witnesses they should hear from.

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Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, 39, called it a a good opportunity for MPs to get up to speed on a the evolving media landscape.

"This is a very important study," said Mr. Del Mastro, 39, the parliamentary secretary to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore. "I think Parliament has got to catch up with where this economy is."

Mr. Del Mastro said he agreed with Google's view that the government should continue to subsidize the production of Canadian culture but that traditional Canadian content rules should not carry over into the Internet.

For decades, Canadian content rules have controlled what programs air on television during prime time and what songs are heard on the radio. Those rules no longer apply to Canadians who increasingly go the web for music and video.

Google's point man for Canadian policy, Jacob Glick, told MPs that while those measures are needed, Ottawa should not attempt to "roll back the clock" by regulating Canadian content online.

Mr. Glick, an Ottawa-based Canadian who grew up in Waterloo, Ont., said artists are poised to benefit financially from a cut of growing online revenue as advertising follows consumers to the Internet.

"More Canadian content can be seen, created and enjoyed in ways never before possible," said Mr. Glick, Canada Policy Counsel for Google Inc.,. He said Canadians can already watch hours upon hours of Canadian content on YouTube (which is owned by Google) without ever watching the same thing twice.

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His rosy predictions for Canadian content met with some skepticism, particularly from Quebec MPs on the committee.

Bloc Québécois MP Carole Lavallée highlighted the often low-brow, low-budget fare on YouTube. She accused Google of confusing leisure with culture.

"Leisure is people who play Star Wars in their basement and film one another and put that on YouTube," she said. " But culture is something else."

Ms. Lavallée also challenged Mr. Glick's assertion that new regulations are not required.

"Many corporations say 'Don't regulate, don't legislate, we'll deal with the matter.' But experience shows, if we don't regulate, business does what it wants," she said.

Mr. Glick noted that Canadian artists receive compensation from YouTube through a share of online advertising revenue. He also said the production, promotion and distribution costs for artists have dropped dramatically in recent years.

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"If you have an HD camera and a MacBook, you can make professional-quality video," he said.

The Conservative government is expected to launch another attempt this year to update Canada's copyright laws to reflect online media and deter piracy.

Mr. Glick suggested MPs look at current practice in Chile, where the judicial system plays a role in deciding whether websites like YouTube must take down content that may infringe copyright.

"At the level of general principle, I don't think the Internet should be a free-for-all," he said.

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