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New ‘link tax’ bill in Canada could force social media companies to pay for news shared on their sites

The Online News Act seeks to tax social media companies when users post links to news articles

 

Jacob Seitz

Tech

Posted on Nov 30, 2022

Canada’s parliament is trying to force social media companies to pay new sites when users post links to articles.

A new bill, C-18 or the Online News Act, essentially seeks to negotiate payment between social media companies and news companies to get “fair compensation when their news content is made available by dominant digital news intermediaries and generates economic gain.” 

In a session on Tuesday, government officials clarified that users posting news quotes on social media would not be subject to the act, but that any link to a news article in any context would be subject to the fee.

The bill casts a broad net, roping in social media sites and search engines as “digital news intermediaries” that could be forced to pay news agencies.

Proponents of the bill say that it increases fairness in the Canadian news market, where social media is a dominant form of delivering the news to Canadians. Opponents, like Google, say it could “create a lower standard for journalism in Canada.”

“The proposed law uses an extremely broad definition for ‘eligible news businesses’ and doesn’t require eligible news outlets to follow basic journalistic standards,” Google said in a blog post in May. “The bill would effectively subsidize any outlet that “explains current issues or events of public interest.” This means that any opinion or commentary blog with two or more people could be eligible to receive funds. It also means that foreign state-owned outlets could be eligible, even if they are known sources of misinformation and propaganda.”

Google said that as it stands, Canadian publishers are easily findable via Google search, but that under C-18 that would be impossible. 

“Right now, anyone can search for information and find relevant websites. Publishers and businesses want to be found by Canadians,” Google said. “If they don’t, they can easily opt out of Search. The Online News Act would change this, requiring companies like Google to pay news businesses simply so that we can help you find what you’re looking for.”

The bill would come at no cost to users. Meta, though, has threatened to cancel news sharing on its platform altogether if the act is passed, which would make it virtually impossible to post links or communicate news on Facebook or Instagram, two of the most dominant social media websites in the country.

Meta and Google both protested a similar law last year in Australia but ended up conceding and restoring news service to the country after concessions were made by lawmakers before passing the bill.

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*First Published: Nov 30, 2022, 3:35 pm CST