New bill will force tech giants to negotiate deals to pay media to use their content

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, April 5, 2022 8:52AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 5, 2022 4:47PM EDT

OTTAWA – Digital giants will have six months to negotiate private deals to compensate Canadian media outlets for reusing their news content or a federal regulator will do it for them, if a new bill introduced Tuesday in Ottawa becomes law.

“Right now, the health and future of the news industry – especially local news – are at risk,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said at a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa after introducing the bill.

“We want to make sure that the news media and journalists are fairly compensated for their work. Now more than ever, Canadians need reliable and credible information, especially in a time of greater mistrust and disinformation.”

The bill, designed to support Canada’s independent media, is modelled on an Australian law making tech companies such as Google and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, pay for news content on their platforms.

The law will set up a process for digital platforms to privately negotiate deals with newspapers, magazines and digital news groups, as well as broadcasters that publish news online.

News organizations big and small will be able to team up to bargain collectively with digital giants for compensation.

If they cannot reach a deal within six months, the tech platforms will be forced into arbitration with news outlets, Rodriguez said. However he said that will be “a last resort.”

Three arbitrators, deemed acceptable in advance by news platforms and the industry, will force the parties to strike a deal.

Digital platforms that fail to comply with the new law could face penalties of up to $15 million per day, according to a briefing by senior federal government officials that was provided to media on the condition they not be named.

Rodriguez said “the reality is grim” in Canada’s news industry, with 451 news outlets closing their doors since 2008.

At least one third of Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared since 2010.

Meanwhile, billions of advertising dollars have migrated from traditional news sources to tech platforms.

Online advertising revenue reached $9.7 billion in 2020 with Google and Facebook taking 80 per cent, the Heritage Department said.

“That’s an incredible chunk of power in the market,” Rodriguez said.

“With this bill we are seeking to address this market imbalance. We want to make sure journalists receive fair compensation for their work.”

He said a deal to support journalism in Canada was important not just to support robust, independent reporting, but to counter the rise of fake news and disinformation on the internet.

He said he had been consulting with digital platforms and wanted to introduce a “transparent” process. The government would take an “arm’s length” role, allowing tech giants to negotiate private deals with news outlets.

The bill will ensure that a portion of compensation will be used to support the production of local, regional and national news. including newspapers, magazines, digital news organizations and broadcasters which produce original news on websites.

The proposed Online News Act, known as bill C-18 in Parliament, will appoint the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as a regulator.

The CRTC will monitor for non-compliance by digital platforms and ensure that the independence of news outlets is not undermined by the deals.

Digital platforms will not be able to give preferential treatment to news outlets they have made voluntary deals with, the senior government officials said.

Newspapers, magazines, digital news organizations and broadcasters which produce original news on websites, employing two or more journalists and operating in Canada, will be able to take part in the regime.

They must be officially designated as a qualified Canadian journalism organization to take part.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2022.