The federal government has finalized a deal with Google regarding Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, that will have the tech company pay $100 million per year to news publishers in order to allow Canadian news content on its platform.
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge called it a “historic development” while discussing the implementation of Bill C-18.
“For more than a decade, news organizations have been disrupted by the arrival of large digital platforms like Google. In Canada, nearly 500 media outlets have closed their doors… All over the world, governments have set up systems to try to establish a more level playing field between tech giants and news organizations, which are essential in our democracies,” said St-Onge on Wednesday at the House of Commons.
“We have found a path forward to answer Google’s questions about their process and the Act. Google wanted certainty about the amount of compensation it would have to pay to Canadian news outlets,” said St-Onge.
“Many doubted that we would be successful, but I was confident that we would find a way to address Google’s concerns and make sure that Canadians would have access to news in Canada on their platform,” she added, saying that the Trudeau government made “absolutely no concessions” in the deal.
The financial support provided by Google will be indexed to inflation, and paid out to “a wide range of news businesses across the country, including independent news businesses and those from Indigenous and official-language minority communities.”
Few details have been released regarding what regulatory changes will be made by the Trudeau government, with Canadian Heritage saying that it cannot release details about the final regulations until after they have been approved by the Treasury Board, which will need to happen before the Act comes into effect.
St-Onge did say however, that they will be reserving the right to reopen the regulations should they create better agreements with other countries.
For the time being however, the agreement alleges to “establish a fairer commercial relationship between digital platforms and in journalism and Canada.”
“Following extensive discussions, we are pleased that the Government of Canada has committed to addressing our core issues with Bill C-18, which included the need for a streamlined path to an exemption at a clear commitment threshold,” said Kent Walker, President of Global Affairs at Google and Alphabet in a statement.
“While we work with the government through the exemption process based on the regulations that will be published shortly, we will continue sending valuable traffic to Canadian publishers,” said Walker.
Bill C-18 passed in June, which requires tech giants like Google and Meta to financially compensate Canadian news outlets for news content that is posted and shared on their platforms. When it initially passed, both Google and Meta threatened to remove news links and content from their platforms rather than pay the media organizations for the content.
Meta has blocked content from Canadian news publishers thus far, removing links, content and the ability to share news from their platforms like Facebook and Instagram, whereas Google said they would begin to do so as of December 19.
“Unfortunately, Meta continues to completely abdicate any responsibility towards democratic institutions and even stability, but we’re going to continue to work positively in those areas,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.
Meta responded to news of the Trudeau government’s deal with Google by saying that the regulatory process for Bill C-18 was “not equipped” for their business model, calling it “unworkable.”
“Unlike search engines, we do not proactively pull news from the internet to place in our users’ feeds and we have long been clear that the only way we can reasonably comply with the Online News Act is by ending news availability for people in Canada,” said a Meta spokesperson in an email to CTV News.
Prior to striking their deal on Wednesday, Google said that they had “serious structural issues with C-18 that regrettably were not dealt with during the legislative process,” calling the bill a “link tax” that “breaks the way the web and search engines have worked for more than 30 years.”
Google also expressed that the Online News Act could expose them to “uncapped financial liability.”
University of Ottawa law professor Micheal Giest said that the deal wasn’t exactly the slam dunk win the government is claiming it to be, writing “The government once claimed it would not negotiate directly with Google or any platform. Rather, it said it was creating a framework to allow the media companies to do so with the CRTC in the role of arbiter to determine if the various deals met the government’s policy objectives.”
“Instead, it ended up negotiating with Google on a single payment rather than the individual deals promised by the bill, creating what amounts to a fund model that Google supported from the outset.”
This is a near complete reversal of Bill C-18 and provides confirmation that the law was unworkable,” wrote Geist.