Bill would give CRTC power over user-generated content, but it won’t use it: chair

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OTTAWA — The chair of Canada’s Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission says federal law would give it the power to regulate user-generated content, such as homemade videos, posted on YouTube.

OTTAWA — The chair of Canada’s Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission says federal law would give it the power to regulate user-generated content, such as homemade videos, posted on YouTube.

But Ian Scott, speaking to a House of Commons committee, predicted that would never happen as the broadcasting regulator has no interest in monitoring content produced by individuals.

Even so, critics of the online streaming law have echoed his comments, saying they go against assurances from Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez that it would give the regulator no power over homemade content like cat or cooking videos.

Bill C-11, now going through Parliament, would update Canada’s Broadcasting Act and give the CRTC the power to regulate online platforms like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify and TikTok along with traditional broadcasters. It would drive digital platforms to promote and financially contribute to the creation of Canadian content, including films, music videos and television programs.

Scott Benzie, executive director of Digital First Canada, said the CRTC chair has confirmed what digital first creators have been saying since the bill was published. They have warned that doing so could give regulators power over their work, including contributions from comedians, animators and gamers on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat and Twitch.

Benzie accused the federal government of misleading by claiming the bill would not capture user-generated content.

“It’s nice to see the truth finally coming out on the table,” Benzie said. “The bill covers everything. Once the CRTC has those powers, it’s really difficult to reverse laws.”

Rodriguez said in a statement, “With Bill C-11, we’re asking online streaming companies that capitalize on Canadian culture to contribute. Canadians and their content are excluded. Point.”

The minister added that the CRTC’s decisions are “transparent and open to public participation”.

“Compare that to the 26 million videos YouTube removed last year with minimal oversight and transparency – and no public accountability,” the minister said.

The CRTC leader spoke about the bill before a House of Commons heritage committee on Wednesday. Scott told lawmakers that the bill, as it stands, would allow the CRTC to regulate user-generated content.

“As designed, there is a provision that would allow us to do this as needed,” he said.

He added that the CRTC has no interest in regulating such content and has never done so.

“There should be a higher level of confidence in the Commission’s future actions,” he told the committee, explaining that in 50 years of broadcasting regulation, the CRTC “never interfered with individual content.”

Scott’s five-year term as chairman ends in September, and the federal government is already accepting applications for his position with annual salaries of up to $328,000. The vacancy is seeking experience in digital media, broadcasting or telecommunications.

The CRTC has been criticized for possibly lacking the expertise to regulate the digital sphere, a claim Scott vehemently denied when asked about it in committee.

The regulator said in a statement after Scott’s appearance that “the bill, as it stands, distinguishes between users of social media and the platforms themselves. It is clear to the CRTC that the intent of the bill is to exclude individual users from regulation.”

The CRTC added that “the content itself may be subject to some regulatory oversight, but only in certain limited circumstances,” e.g. when it generates revenue, is available on other platforms such as television, and is categorized by a unique, internationally assigned identifier.

If the CRTC decides to introduce regulations, they must be designed to achieve the policy objectives of the Broadcasting Act.

YouTube warned at a national culture summit earlier this month that the bill’s wording would give the CRTC the ability to monitor everyday videos posted for other users to view.

The online streaming bill includes a clause that excludes videos uploaded by a user for other users to watch from regulation.

This is followed by qualifying clauses stating that the CRTC can make regulations regarding “programs,” which YouTube warned would give the regulator discretion and latitude to monitor a wide range of digital content, including home video.

YouTube Canada’s Jeanette Patell said in a statement, “We have heard from the government that they have no intention of regulating user-generated content (UGC), but the CRTC Chair has confirmed that UGC is still in the text of the law.”

“Our simple request is that they remove this inconsistency and include specific language in the bill to exempt UGC from CRTC regulation to protect thousands of Canadian creators who make a living on digital platforms.”

According to YouTube, the number of Canadian content creators making more than $100,000 annually on their platform is increasing every year.

Michael Geist, Canadian Research Chair in Internet Law at the University of Ottawa, said user-generated content is not “out of the bill”.

“Scott’s comments confirm what was obvious to anyone who took the time to read the bill,” Geist said.

“The door is wide open for the CRTC to set regulations for user content, including discoverability rules, that could harm Canada’s digital-first creators. There are good reasons why no other country in the world regulates user content in this way.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 20, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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