News Dispatch

Content creators pin their hopes on Senate changes to controversial online streaming bill

A cosplayer walks at the YouTube exhibition stands at the Gamescom computer gaming fair in Cologne, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. Martin Meissner/AP Photo.

For many of those concerned about Bill C-11, all eyes are back on the House of Commons after the Senate returned the bill with “surgical” amendments designed to clear up the proposed legislation’s most controversial language. 

Bill C-11 is intended to regulate online streaming services alongside traditional broadcast media like cable television, and compel streaming giants like YouTube and Netflix to promote “Canadian stories” by methods such as tweaking their algorithms.

While Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said Bill C-11 would not apply to digital user-generated content, the Senate’s amendment changes Section 4.2 of the bill to specifically exclude “amateur content.” 

“That’s the whole idea of the amendment, to make sure that we’re not capturing things we weren’t supposed to capture,” says Paula Simons, one of two Senators who co-authored the amendment. 

Numerous independent digital content creators have expressed their opposition to the bill.

These creators worry their YouTube or TikTok channels will be negatively impacted by Bill C-11 forcing platforms to promote specific Canadian content, or “CanCon,” at the expense of independent user exposure and revenue. 

Simons says the amendment is intended to try and make the government do what it stated it would do, and that was to ensure entities like large corporate music platforms do not enjoy an unfair advantage. 

AIR Media-Tech, which offers services to boost digital user metrics, found that the number of YouTubers in Canada grows faster than in all of Western Europe, using both its own internal data and findings from Oxford Economics to support its claims. 

Furthermore, AIR Media-Tech said that if not changed, Bill C-11 could result in an outflow of talent from the Canadian market. At least one prominent Canadian YouTuber who runs the popular channel SomeOrdinaryGamers has said they may have to leave Canada if the bill passes without changes. 

In 2021, Oxford Economics found that YouTube alone contributed over $1.1 billion and the equivalent of 34,600 jobs to the Canadian economy. 

High-profile but independent digital content creators in Canada, such as J.J. McCullough or HZHTube Kids Fun, have more than 13 million YouTube subscribers combined. Simons says the amendment specifically assures them they are not included within the scope. 

“The idea was to find a way that would scope in the large music labels, but leave out the small digital-first creators,” says Simons. “The idea was to structure an amendment that would still allow songs and songwriters to be discoverable, but leave out people who are using YouTube, say, for stand-up comedy, or using TikTok for comedy or theatrical works.”

Earlier this year there was a tense verbal exchange between McCullough, who opposes the legislation, and several government MPs on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage regarding Bill C-11.

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Some digital content creators and advocates are praising the Senate for their work, and favourably compare the Senate’s treatment of witnesses with that of the House of Commons. 

“The amendment process in the House was a nightmare. Creators were bullied and dismissed after bringing our concerns forward,” said Scott Benzie over email. “The Senate has been much better, they have listened, heard our feedback, and made some changes.” 

Benzie is the CEO of the Buffer Festival, an annual digital video festival held in Toronto, and the managing digital director of Digital First Canada (DFC), an advocacy group for user content creators on platforms like YouTube. 

“The Senators should be recognized for their investment in listening, learning, and giving some real clinical thought to this bill,” says Morghan Fortier, the CEO of Skyship Entertainment, which produces children’s shows on YouTube. 

Skyship’s shows have garnered more than 49 million subscribers and 50 billion views combined.

Benzies believes that the politicians in charge of drafting C-11 did not understand all the possible downsides of the legislation. 

“There is a lot of ‘we will just figure it out’, but that is not good enough when creators’ businesses are on the line,” said Benzie. “The education process has been very important and it is why an organization like DFC is so important. All the drafters and Parliament ever hear from is traditional media.” 

Fortier says the amendments were a decent first step, but it remains to be seen if they go far enough to ensure digital content creators are not hurt by Bill C-11. 

“Heritage has made a lot of promises along this journey, and the Senators have done a good job of presenting amendments that would force Heritage to honour those promises,” says Fortier. “What Heritage accepts or doesn’t accept will be telling.” 

The next meeting of the heritage committee regarding Bill C-11 has not yet been scheduled.

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