Explained | What is Canada’s Online News Act and how it impacts social media users

Canada’s push to build a legal framework for news publishers and social media firms is making the latter apprehensive

March 14, 2023 10:17 am | Updated 11:27 am IST

File photo of the Canadian flag on a boat oar

File photo of the Canadian flag on a boat oar | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The story so far: On March 11, Facebook-owner Meta reiterated its stance against Canada’s proposed Online News Act. The company said that if the bill is passed in its current form, it would curtail Canada-based users from viewing news on its platform.

What is the bill about?

Introduced in April 2022, Canada’s ‘Online News Act,’ also known as the House of Commons bill C-18, aims to make Big Tech companies like Google and Meta compensate local news publishers for making the latter’s content available for users on its platforms.

The bill is aimed at creating a framework for a partnership between news publishers and platforms. It looks into aspects of increasing bargaining power for the news content providers, and making it easy for platforms and news publishers to share revenue.

The Canadian government expects the Act to build a sustainable local news industry, enhance diversity in the sector, increase press independence, and foster market innovation.

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Juan Pablo Rodríguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage, stressed on the need to pass the bill, pointing to support from Canada’s cultural sector. “As promised, we are accepting amendments that ensure tech giants pay their fair share toward our culture, and we are declining the amendments that create loopholes. That’s what Canadian artists and creators have asked us to do,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

The Minister urged Conservative MPs to vote in favour of the bill, asking them to represent Canadian artists and culture.

“All we’re asking Facebook to do is negotiate fair deals with news outlets when they profit from their work,” Rodriguez told Reuters.

Why don’t tech giants agree?

Among the tech giants, Google and Facebook have been vocal in their opposition against the tentative Online News Act, and the idea of paying local publishers for their journalistic content.

In October 2022, Facebook threatened to block news for Canada-based users and said that it wasn’t consulted or asked to provide its feedback regarding the proposed law. It expressed concerns about being asked to pay beyond set limits for news stories shared by Facebook users.

Google has tested partial news blocks on a small percentage of its users, in spite of criticism from Canadian government officials.

“A legislative framework that compels us to pay for links or content that we do not post, and which are not the reason the vast majority of people use our platforms, is neither sustainable nor workable,” a Meta spokesperson told Reuters.

What will happen next?

The bill is yet to be passed, but tech giants like Google and Facebook are already preparing for the future. They have made their stance on the bill clear.

This is unlikely to be a one-time debate. In December 2022, the New Zealand government also said it had planned to pass a similar law to make Big Tech companies pay local news companies for news content on their social media platforms.

Australia passed a similar law that has been in force since March 2021. Though Facebook users briefly lost access to news feeds in the country, the government was clear that it considered the News Media Bargaining Code to be a success. It pointed to an uptick in deals between tech companies and news publishers to use their content on platforms and help news companies pay more professionals.

Those in the media industry who support making Big Tech companies pay for news on their platforms believe that the move will help local news publishers continue their work while drawing benefits from Meta and Google’s advertising revenue.

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