In a significant development, Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, has recently been enacted by the Government of Canada. This new legislation mandates that certain companies pay for displaying links to news content, a practice that has traditionally been free. However, Google, one of the companies affected by the law, has expressed concerns over its workability and potential repercussions. As a result, Google has reluctantly made the decision to remove links to Canadian news from its Search, News, and Discover products when the law takes effect. Additionally, Google will no longer be able to operate its Google News Showcase product in Canada. This decision raises questions about the accessibility of news online and the challenges faced by the journalism industry.
Challenges Posed by Bill C-18:
The requirement to pay for displaying news links, commonly referred to as a “link tax,” has raised uncertainties for Google’s products. By imposing a financial liability on companies for facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers, the law creates a precedent that may have far-reaching consequences. Google argues that this approach undermines the support for journalism in Canada and could lead to significant changes in its products. The company emphasizes that while they are willing to support Canadian journalism further, it cannot be at the expense of breaking the fundamental principles underlying the functioning of the web and search engines.
Google’s Efforts to Support Canadian Journalism:
Google highlights its existing efforts to support Canadian journalism through various programs and partnerships. One such initiative is the Google News Showcase program, through which Google has negotiated agreements with over 150 news publications across Canada. In the past year alone, Google provided over 3.6 billion links to Canadian news publications at no charge, thereby helping publishers generate revenue from advertisements and new subscriptions. This referral traffic has been estimated to have a value of approximately $250 million CAD annually. Google acknowledges its willingness to do more to assist the journalism industry but maintains that it must align with the principles that govern the functioning of the web and search engines.
Google’s Collaboration and Recommendations:
Drawing on its collaborations with governments and news publishers worldwide, Google sought to apply a similar approach to Bill C-18. The company consistently offered constructive feedback and proposed solutions that would have made the legislation more practical for both platforms and publishers, ultimately benefiting Canadian journalism. Google also endorsed an alternative model of an independent fund for Canadian journalism, supported by both platforms and the government. Such an approach has proven successful in other jurisdictions. Google actively engaged with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, presenting detailed recommendations for reasonable and balanced amendments to the legislation. Unfortunately, none of Google’s suggested changes were accepted.
Government’s Response and Future Prospects:
Just as the Bill was nearing final passage and Royal Assent, the Government agreed to discuss addressing critical issues raised by Google, which was seen as a positive development. During these discussions, Google sought clarity on the financial expectations platforms face for linking to news and proposed a viable path to an exemption based on their existing programs and commercial agreements with publishers. While Google appreciates the Government’s recognition of their concerns and the assurance that the law will not apply until implementing regulations are adopted, there remains a lack of certainty regarding the regulatory process’s ability to address fundamental issues such as forced payment for links and uncapped financial liability.
Despite the challenges posed by Bill C-18, Google intends to actively participate in the regulatory process and maintain transparency with Canadians and publishers. The company hopes that the Government will outline a viable path forward that takes into account the concerns raised. If not addressed appropriately, Bill C-18 may impede Canadians’ access to the news online, hinder journalists’ ability to reach their audiences, and reduce valuable web traffic to Canadian publishers. The implications of this law extend beyond the immediate impact on Google, potentially influencing the broader digital news ecosystem in Canada.
The enactment of Bill C-18 and Google’s decision to remove links to Canadian news from its products highlight the complex dynamics between the journalism industry and digital platforms. While the law seeks to support journalism financially, it also raises concerns about the potential limitations on access to news online. Google’s extensive efforts to support Canadian journalism through its programs and partnerships demonstrate its commitment to the industry’s sustainability. However, it remains to be seen how the regulatory process will address the structural challenges associated with the legislation. A delicate balance must be struck to ensure the availability of news, the viability of news publishers, and the principles that underpin the functioning of the web.