Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced last week the Trudeau government wants to enforce Canadian content regulations for platforms like Spotify and Netflix, and is looking at Australian-style regulations requiring platforms like Facebook to compensate news outlets whenever a news outlet’s link is shared there.
Both of these proposed regulations are silly.
For Canadian content, the Trudeau government seems hell-bent on applying outdated regulations to innovative tech platforms like Netflix and Spotify. These platforms are successful because they provide consumers what they want in terms of video and audio content. It seems quite paternalistic for the government to interfere, and require that these companies produce Canadian content, regardless of whether there is consumer demand for it.
This is problematic because CanCon regulations forcibly tell consumers that they want, or are required, to consume Canadian content, and then force companies to create content based on that false assumption. I, of course, want Canadian artists and content creators to do well and thrive, but I also know that the Canadian media/entertainment space is mature enough to stand on its own two feet. It would be better for Canadian success to be a result of meeting consumer demands and not the result of a government decree.
Supporters of CanCon regulations say these regulations are required to “protect Canadian culture and the people who produce it”, but who exactly are we protecting Canadian culture and its producers from? If Canadian content isn’t successful in the domestic market, that is because it isn’t appealing to the demands and wants of Canadian consumers. It is backwards for the government to meddle to try and shield Canadian creators from the wants of domestic consumers.
If legislators want to actually listen to the demands of Canadian consumers, they’d know that Canadians like Netflix and Spotify just how they are, and that intervention isn’t needed. Plus, we already have a taxpayer funded outlet to protect Canadian culture and its creators: the CBC. Is the $1 billion the CBC receives not enough to provide a home for Canadian content? Do we really need to be forced to pay for Canadian content as both taxpayers, and in the private sector? I don’t think so.
Beyond content, the heritage minister’s comments regarding social media platforms having to pay news outlets to share web links are just as misguided. In an interview with Radio-Canada, Minister Guilbeault suggested that Canada is looking at following Australia’s lead, and creating regulations that would force a platform like Facebook to pay news outlets every time one of their web links is shared. That means that when you or I share an article, let’s say from the Toronto Star, Minister Guilbeault thinks that Facebook should be forced to compensate the Star, despite the fact that Facebook is acting as a free lead generator. This genuinely leaves me scratching my head as to why this is a good idea. Media outlets make their money in two ways: advertising dollars linked to views or through subscriptions. Being able to freely share a news story on social media drives traffic to these news outlets, which is exactly how they make their advertising money and solicit subscribers.
It is bizarre for the federal government to mandate that Facebook compensate newspapers for driving web traffic to their website and sending them free leads. This desire to have the government further protect the media industry becomes even more strange when you consider that the industry is already subsidized by taxpayers at the tune of $600 million dollars.
And if Australia has shown us anything, following through with this type of legislation would be disastrous for consumers, for newspapers, and for society at large. In response to the regulations down under, Facebook stopped allowing for users to share news links on their platform.
This hurts consumers because it means that news won’t be available on social media at all, where most of us consume it. This is a net negative for society because less news availability ultimately means poor media literacy, which certainly isn’t good. And lastly, this is terrible for newspapers because it eliminates their ability to reach online audiences via social media, which reduces traffic and their ability to generate subscribers.
Rather than enforce outdated regulations on Netflix and Spotify, legislators should listen to Canadian consumers. In regards to the offer of additional regulations, with all due respect Minister Guilbeault, thanks, but no thanks.
David Clement is a columnist for the Western Standard and the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center