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CanCon Comes to Social Media: Did the Canadian Government Just Make a Colossal Mistake?

Canada

If you’re unaware of how Canadian media works, let me tell you about Canadian Content (a.k.a., CanCon). In Canada, it’s a requirement for mass media to produce and broadcast a certain percentage of content that is made by Canadians — and is also assessed by regulators as “culturally” Canadian. For radio airplay, 40% of broadcast time must be devoted to CanCon; on television, it’s 50% daily.

Today, the Government of Canada amended the Broadcasting Act to account for the rise in Internet video and digital media, with a special focus on streaming services like Netflix. Referred to as Bill C-10, this revision seeks to compel streaming platforms to follow the same regulatory obligations as cable TV providers.

The Problem

Certainly, streaming services should compete at a level playing field as traditional media companies. We applaud the intent. However, there’s one big flaw in this amendment: in a world where everyone is a potential publisher, how will this affect user-generated content?

On platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch, the vast majority of video is made by independent creators operating on a minimal budget. Whatever production funding they have is often boot-strapped. The monetary demands of CanCon now create an unfair advantage for well-funded media giants like Bell and Rogers — and Netflix, ironically.

Bill C-10 also throws a wrench into Canada’s developing social media start-up scene. For tech companies leveraging new video and audio technologies, it means building algorithms to account for CanCon requirements. Failure to do so could result in fines starting at $250,000. Even worse, it could result in a suspension of a broadcaster’s license to operate.

A Lack of Clarity

Since user-generated content powers the majority of social media content, Bill C-10 undermines freedom of expression. Will friends and family living overseas find their content censored from your newsfeed because they’re not deemed Canadian by regulators? Will content from permanent residents living in Canada be removed because they’re not (yet) Canadian? And how will most creators know whether or not their content is “culturally” Canadian?

As it stands now, the language in Bill C-10 is ambiguous about how it will enforce CanCon on social media platforms. It’s not clear how user-generated content will be regulated. Currently, with little direction from regulators, whose voices should be amplified or silenced? We don’t yet know how regulation will be enforced, but we know that it’s coming.

This legislation also demonstrates that Canada is ill-prepared for the realities of decentralisation. As both art and commerce become untethered from “the Cloud”, how will Bill C-10 be enforceable? With NFTs exploding in value — both in Canada and abroad — how will regulators enforce CanCon requirements?

On the Internet, can CanCon even work?

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