Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Repeal Canada's Online News Act

The Online News Act Threatens Innovation and Access to Information

The Canadian government recently passed the controversial Online News Act (Bill C-18) which seeks to aid journalism organizations at the expense of undermining the open web. The notion that we should be collectively supporting a traditional news industry is dubious at best. The act takes a concerning approach of mandating that platforms like Meta pay licensing fees for linking to news content. This raises issues of cost, access, fairness, and innovation online. Even if we deem it advisable for the public to support it, there are better solutions for journalism that do not jeopardize the web. 

Paywalls Could Limit Access and Shareability of News

The act incentivizes paywalls by requiring compensation for snippets and links, which have traditionally been considered fair use (Geist, 2023). More paywalled content limits access to information that benefits society (Boudry, et al., 2019). This counters the web’s core value of shareable open access.

Link Taxes Open the Door to Other Industries Charging Fees

Mandating payments for links overturns the precedent that linking is fair use (Authors Alliance, 2022). This dangerous precedent allows any industry to charge for inbound links, undermining the hypertext vision of an open web. "World wide web founder Tim Berners-Lee says the Australian proposal ‘would undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web’" Wahlquist (2021)

The Act Entrenches Old Media Power Structures

The act favors large established news companies over independent outlets (Ingram, 2023). Rather than empowering new voices, this cements traditional media’s dominance. Direct public investment in journalism would be more equitable.

Hasty Legislative Process Without Consulting Experts

The act was rushed without sufficient analysis of consequences (Wolf, 2022). More debate involving diverse experts may have surfaced better solutions to aid journalism without compromising the web.

Meta’s Resistance Upholds Principles of an Open Platform

Meta resisted the act to defend fair use of links and an open web (Meta, 2023). The irony of this contretemps is that Meta's links were already providing value to news outlets. Their loss will actively harm them. 

We have been transparent and have made it clear to the Canadian government that the legislation misrepresents the value news outlets receive when choosing to use our platforms. The legislation is based on the incorrect premise that Meta benefits unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, when the reverse is true. News outlets voluntarily share content on Facebook and Instagram to expand their audiences and help their bottom line. In contrast, we know the people using our platforms don’t come to us for news. (Meta, 2023)

News sites already can use copyright takedowns for reposted text, but links merely reference content and drive valuable traffic (Authors Alliance, 2022; U.S. Copyright Office, 2022). Mandated link fees let news organizations arbitrarily tax platforms, contradicting the web’s ethos of freely sharing access to information.

With more consultation of stakeholders, regulations can be crafted that support journalism without undermining the open internet. But the Online News Act overreaches in ways that do much more harm than good.

References

Authors Alliance. (2022). Copyright law and fair use. https://www.authorsalliance.org/category/resources/fair-use/

Berners-Lee, T. (2022). Web at 30. W3C. https://web30.web.cern.ch/

Boudry C, et al., Worldwide inequality in access to full text scientific articles: the example of ophthalmology. PeerJ. 2019 Oct 30;7:e7850. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7850. PMID: 31687270; PMCID: PMC6825414.

Campbell, Natalie (2023) The Hill Times The Online News Act will make the internet less open and secure for all Canadians

Geist, M. (2022) Why the Online News Act is a Bad Solution to a Real Problem, Part One: The Risk to Free Flow of Information

Geist, M. (2023) “Ongoing Concerns”: U.S. Objections to Canadian Digital Policies Spreads to the Senate

Ingram, Matthew (2023) Canada imitates Australia’s news-bargaining law, but to what end?

Lesh, Matthew (2023) Breaking the News: Should digital platforms be required to fund news publishers?

Meta (2023) Changes to News Availability on Our Platforms in Canada

Miller, Gabby (2022) Everything to know about Canada’s Online News Act hearings

Sullivan, Andrew & Campbell, Natalie (2023) Internet Society Internet Impact Brief: How Canada’s Online News Act Will Harm the Internet, Restricting Innovation, Security, and Growth of the Digital Economy

U.S. Copyright Office. (2022). Fair use. https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/

Wahlquist, Calla (2021) The Guardian Australia's proposed media code could break the world wide web, says the man who invented it

Wolf, Marie (2022) Google warns every MP, senator not to fast track Canadian online news bill

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