User content subject to ‘some authority’ by CRTC under Bill C-11, regulator says

CRTC could force online platforms to promote Canadian content to users, but not impose standards on user content, MPs heard

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The CRTC’s powers over user-generated content under Bill C-11 are limited, officials from the regulator told MPs on Tuesday evening.

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The CRTC would be able to implement discoverability requirements – obliging platforms to promote Canadian content to users – but not impose standards on the content of what users post, such as rules on obscenity , heard the heritage committee of the House of Commons.

Bill C-11, the Online Broadcasting Act, creates the CRTC to regulate online platforms like Netflix, but concerns about giving the CRTC regulatory power over user content have sparked controversy. controversy over the bill.

Rachelle Frenette, General Counsel and Deputy Executive Director of the CRTC, said that “content uploaded by users may be subject to some authority by the commission”, but argued that the powers of the CRTC “in regarding social media platforms and user-uploaded content are actually quite narrow. .” For example, the CRTC cannot impose any rules regarding programming standards on user-uploaded content.

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“The commission could, for example, enact some rules around discoverability, could maybe enact rules … to address some accessibility concerns,” Frenette said.

Whether YouTube qualifies as “broadcasting” under Bill C-11 depends on the content in question, CRTC Chairman Ian Scott said.

“It depends on what YouTube does. If they do broadcasting, we will be interested. If they are engaged in other activities, no, then no,” he said.

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Asked to define broadcasting, Scott pointed to the current definition in the Broadcasting Act, under which broadcasting is the “transmission of programs, whether or not encrypted, by radio waves or other means of telecommunication for reception by the public by means of broadcast receiving apparatus, but does not include such transmission of programs which is made solely for performance or display in a public place.

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Content creators have warned that the discoverability provisions for Canadian content will hurt the creators the bill aims to help. If Canadian content is shown to users who are not interested in it, and therefore do not engage with it, then the algorithms will downgrade that content, they argue.

Earlier in the day, Justin Tomchuk, who runs two major YouTube channels, told the committee the bill would “potentially destroy” his channels’ international visibility – and 97% of his viewers are international.

“Bill C-11 involves vague changes to these platforms to prioritize Canadian content for Canadians, but it would in turn deprioritize Canadian content for international audiences,” he said.

Tomchuk argued that “social media platforms cannot allow Canadian content to gain increased exposure to Canadians without harming international exposure, as this creates a level playing field on the platform.” As a result, less Canadian content will air globally.

He said the bill needed to “distinguish between paid premium distributors such as Netflix and user-generated social media platforms such as YouTube”.

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