Feds signal room for tweaking online streaming bill in committee

Feds signal room for tweaking online streaming bill in committee

OTTAWA — The federal government has signalled it is open to MPs tweaking a bill that would subject streaming companies, such as Netflix, to the same rules as traditional Canadian broadcasters.

Chris Bittle, parliamentary secretary to the heritage minister, said in the House of Commons on Tuesday there is “room” for MPs to amend the bill after it goes to committee for scrutiny.

On Tuesday during Commons debate, Tory MPs indicated they planned to table amendments to the bill, which they say is flawed.

The Online Streaming Act would require web firms to offer a set amount of Canadian content and invest heavily in Canada’s cultural industries, including film, television and music.

It would make it easier for people to find Canadian content — including films and TV programs — and ensure that streaming platforms promote it.

But digital-first creators, who prioritize new media, and platforms such as YouTube are concerned the bill would give the broadcast regulator sweeping powers, including the right to regulate people posting videos.

Bill C-11, as it is known in Parliament, updates the 1991 Broadcasting Act, which predates the internet revolution that changed the way people watch film and video and listen to music.

Conservative MP Rachael Thomas, who sits on the heritage committee, raised concerns the proposed law would lead to regulation of people who post videos on platforms such as YouTube.

Thomas accused the government of “going after” digital-first creators and “new innovative artists” to support “traditional, antiquated outdated artists who can’t make a go of it otherwise.”

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman said the bill is a “near copy of the deeply flawed” C-10, a previous version of the bill introduced in the last Parliament which did not become law before the 2021 general election.

The bill would make Canada the first country to regulate content online and “punish” successful Canadian digital creators, Lantsman said.

She said giving the federal broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the power to regulate content that generates revenue means virtually all content on the internet would be regulated, creating an “internet czar.”

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has previously said the bill would not affect people posting material such as cat videos, and would only cover commercial content like professionally produced music also found on streaming platforms such as Spotify.

Liberal MP Francesco Sorbara said the bill will “make clear that digital-first creators will be excluded.”

He also indicated that Rodriguez plans to issue a “policy direction” to the CRTC once the bill has passed through Parliament defining what commercial content means and reiterating that people posting videos will not be affected by the bill.

He said the government has listened to the concerns of Canadians and parties including the streaming industry, adding that all will be able to give feedback before the CRTC starts its work.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said the bill is “not an attack on freedoms. It is all about updating the Broadcasting Act.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press