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CRTC won’t regulate user-generated internet content, chair promises

Critics say the Online Streaming Act is so broadly worded that it would capture ‘essentially everything on the Internet’

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The CRTC has no interest in regulating user-generated content should the Liberal government’s Bill C-11 become law, CRTC chairman Ian Scott said Monday.

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“It is not the focus of the CRTC. Regulating it will not be in the public interest and will not contribute to the system,” Scott said at industry conference IIC Canada. “We have lots of things to do. We don’t need to start looking at user-generated content.”

The Liberal government has maintained that its Online Streaming Act doesn’t target content posted by Canadians online. The legislation sets up the CRTC to regulate online platforms with the goal of ensuring the streaming services contribute to the “creation and availability of Canadian stories and music.”

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said that the goal is to target “big online streamers” and music on YouTube. Critics argue the language of the bill is much broader than that, and, if passed, it would put a wide range of online content under the CRTC’s authority.

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Scott said even if the bill does give the CRTC that power, the commission won’t use it. “There’s just no purpose in regulating user-generated content,” he said.

“The suggestion that we will suddenly start regulating, you know, people’s home videos of their child’s baseball game is, on its face, silly,” Scott said. “If it’s the Blue Jays baseball game, yeah, we might have an interest.”

During a panel discussion at the same conference, a YouTube representative said it’s “very clear” that under the bill as it’s currently worded, the CRTC would have authority over user-generated content. Jeanette Patell, head of government affairs and public policy for YouTube Canada, said the bill is so broadly worded that it would capture “essentially everything on the Internet.”

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Asked whether it’s not “comforting enough” to hear Scott promise not to regulate user content, Patel said the limits should be reflected in legislation.

“I think that it’s asking tens of thousands of creators to bet their livelihoods on the strength of our current political forecasting,” she said.

“When we have a government that says its intent is not to capture UGC, you have a regulator who says that they don’t want to capture UGC, then the best and most effective way to address that” is to have it reflected in the text of the bill.

Scott said online platforms should be “making a contribution” to the broadcasting system. That includes ensuring “discoverability” of Canadian content on platforms.

“We might ask a player, how are you going to make your Canadian content more visible?” Scott said. “And that’s perfectly acceptable and appropriate as part of the regulatory regime.” I have noted the CRTC already asks that question to licensed broadcasters.

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Critics have expressed concerns that the CRTC having a say on what content users are presented with when they go online is an infringement on freedom of expression. They’ve also said that, because of how platform algorithms are designed, pushing content to users who aren’t interested in it could end up penalizing that content.

The CRTC will be tasked with new responsibilities involving regulation of online platforms both under Bill C-11 and C-18, the Online News Act, which will require Facebook and Google to share revenue with news publishers. In a job posting for a new CRTC chair Friday — Scott’s five-year term is up later this year — Heritage Canada said it’s looking for a candidate who can lead an organization through change.

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Some have raised concerns that the CRTC, a broadcasting and telecom regulator, doesn’t have the expertise to take on the digital world. Scott pushed back against those criticisms Monday, calling them “perplexing” when it comes to Bill C-11.

“We’re talking about broadcasting. The commission has been regulating broadcasting for over 50 years. And I am, and the commission should be, indifferent to the source of that broadcasting,” he said.

“Whether you received it over-air from the transmitter, through a fiber or cable, through a broadcast distribution player or whether you picked it up off the Internet makes no difference.”

That doesn’t mean treating online platforms like Netflix exactly the same as traditional broadcasters, Scott said, pointing out that the CRTC couldn’t, for example, impose requirements involving local news on platforms that don’t offer news.

“We need to be able to develop a regime that applies equitable regulation. And that includes adjusting for different kinds of business models, different considerations,” he said. “But at the end of the day, they should all be making a reasonable contribution to the Canadian broadcasting system.”

Once Bill C-11 passes, the CRTC will be in charge of figuring out the details of how the new regulatory regime will work. Scott said the CRTC would do that through a “transparent public proceeding,” not in a “backroom.”

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