Legislative Reform of the Digital Landscape—Bill C-18 Online News Act Now Introduced

Elisabeth Lesage-Bigras [1]
Lawyer, Patent and Trademark Agent

The Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, introduced Bill C‑18, the Online News Act[2] (“Bill C-18”), on April 5th. This is the second bill introduced by the Minister this year to reform the accessibility of digital content and services. Last February, Bill C-11[3] reforming the Broadcasting Act[4] was introduced. If adopted in its current form, this bill will substantially modify the regulatory structure of the broadcasting sector by requiring, among other things, online broadcasters to contribute to the creation of Canadian content[5].

  1. New innovative framework?

Important change in Canada? Yes, but the concept is not new. Based on the Australian model, which itself came into effect in 2021[6], Bill C-18 aims to ensure greater fairness in the Canadian news market by allowing journalists to receive “fair” compensation for their stories when they are made available online[7]. With the decline of newsrooms, as well as local and regional newspapers observed in recent years, Bill C-18 would require tech giants to negotiate and enter into agreements with the “outlets for the news and information that is shared on their platforms”[8]. In doing so, the bill also provides for new functions for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which will, among other things, be responsible for maintaining a registry of all web providers (or, according to Bill C-18, “digital news intermediaries”) subject to the legislation, as well as overseeing the eligibility of companies to participate in the new negotiation process between news media and digital news intermediaries for the conclusion of said agreements[9].

  1. Mixed Reactions

Without any real surprise, the introduction of Bill C-18 has received, since its release last April, a mixed reception from the actors in the field. While the news media and their representatives seem to generally welcome the government’s effort[10], the web giants are resisting this reform, and openly expressing their concerns about the bill[11]. Given this situation and the mixed reactions, it is clear the current version of Bill C‑18 will probably change during the parliamentary adoption process. Our telecommunications team will follow the developments of this reform with attention. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the regulation of digital platforms or its content, do not hesitate to contact the members of our Regulatory Affairs group.

© CIPS, 2022.

[1]          Élisabeth Lesage-Bigras is a lawyer at ROBIC, L.L.P., a multidisciplinary firm of lawyers and patent and trade-mark agents.

[2]         Bill C-18 “An Act respecting online communication platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada”, 1st session, 44th Parliament, 70-71 Elizabeth II, 2021-2022.

[3]          Bill C-11, “An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts“, 1st session, 44th Parliament, 70 Elizabeth II, 2021-2022. 

[4]          Broadcasting Act, S.C. 1991, c. 11.

[5]         Canadian Heritage, “Government of Canada Introduces Legislation to Support the Next Generation of Canadian Artists and Creators,” February 2, 2022, online.

[6]          Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Act 2021, No. 21, 2021.

[7]          Canadian Heritage, “Government introduces bill to ensure fair compensation for news media and the sustainability of local news,” 5 April 2022, online; and Bill C-18, s. 2(2).

[8]        Canadian Heritage, Id.

[9]        Bill C-18, ss. 2(1), 8(1) and 18 et seq.

[10] Mylène CRÊTE, “Les géants du web auront six mois pour conclure des entente“, April 5, 2022, Lapresse.com.

[11] See Judith LACHAPELLE, “L’accès à Facebook sera-t-il suspendu au Canada?“, April 30, 2022, Lapresse.com; Marie WOOLF, “Google warns online news bill could make it subsidize biased news outlets“, May 14, 2022, CBC.ca .