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Liberal bill requiring Google and Meta to pay for news content passes in Senate

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A federal bill that will require Google and Meta to pay media outlets for news content that they share or otherwise repurpose on their platforms has become law.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday in a final vote and was given royal assent amid a standoff between the Liberal government and Silicon Valley tech giants.

Ottawa has said the law creates a level playing field between online advertising giants and the shrinking news industry. And Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has promised to push back on what he describes as "threats" from Facebook and Google to remove journalism from their platforms.

Meta confirmed Thursday that it plans to comply with the bill by ending news availability on Facebook and Instagram for its Canadian users, as it had previously suggested.

Meta would not offer details about the timeline for that move, but said it will pull local news from its site before the Online News Act takes effect. The bill will come into force six months from Thursday.

"We have repeatedly shared that in order to comply with Bill C-18, which was passed today in Parliament, content from news outlets, including news publishers and broadcasters, will no longer be available to people accessing our platforms in Canada," said Lisa Laventure, head of communications for Meta in Canada.

Rodriguez had meetings with both Facebook and Google this week, but his department didn't disclose details about them.

Spokesperson Laura Scaffidi said the minister was set to have another meeting Thursday afternoon with Google, which has hinted that removing news links from its popular search engine is a possibility. The company didn't provide comment on the matter.

Meta was already undergoing a test that blocks news for up to five per cent of its Canadian users, and Google ran a similar test earlier this year.

The Online News Act requires both companies to enter into agreements with news publishers to pay them for news content that appears on their sites if it helps the tech giants generate money.

"Following royal assent of Bill C-18, the government will engage in a regulatory and implementation process," said Scaffidi.

"The tech giants do not have obligations under the act immediately after Bill C-18 passes. As part of this process, all details will be made public before any tech giant is designated under the act."

Such regulations will be made public and finalized before platforms have to enter into negotiations with media businesses. Canadian Heritage said it hopes the tech giants will work with them throughout that process.

When Australia introduced a similar law in 2021, Meta temporarily blocked news from Facebook.

In that country, Meta and Google entered into agreements with news publishers, but the minister never went through a designation process that would cause the law to specifically apply to them.

Rodriguez has said C-18 is a stronger law than Australia's because it's more transparent.

Unlike in Australia, the Canadian government will not decide which company is captured under the law. The Canadian approach instead identifies companies through a regulatory process by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, an arm's-length administrative branch.

While the bill itself didn't name any specific platforms, it does list criteria that would cause companies to be caught under the law. Such companies would be deemed in a "significant bargaining power imbalance" with news businesses based on their size, their strategic advantage and whether they occupy "a prominent market position."

Rodriguez told the Senate that Meta and Google would be the only two companies affected by the law because of that last point.

"Canadian news businesses are operating in a world where a handful of large players have an inordinate amount of power (over) how online content is accessed," Quebec Sen. Marc Gold, the Liberal government's representative in the Senate, said on Thursday in a speech to the Upper Chamber.

"These large digital platforms have used their outsized market power to make news content available without compensation (to) news organizations."

He said the purpose of C-18 is to fix that power imbalance.

Since 2008, close to 500 media outlets in 335 communities across Canada have closed, with more than 20,000 journalists losing their job, Gold said, while Google and Meta continue to bring in billions in advertising dollars.

"We all lose if Canadian news businesses are starved to the point where they can no longer produce high quality journalism, when no one is there to report on democratic institutions and counter the growing wave of disinformation. Citizens suffer the consequences," Gold said.

On Thursday, Postmedia Network Corp., which owns dozens of publications including the National Post, Vancouver Sun and Calgary Herald, praised the passage of the bill

In a statement, the company's president and CEO, Andrew MacLeod, thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Rodriguez and Parliament. "Journalism isn't free. Bill C-18 is a first step in ensuring news media content creators can be fairly compensated for the costs associated with keeping Canadians informed and begins the journey toward a viable online ecosystem."

News Media Canada, which advocates for the industry, also welcomed the bill's passing saying it will allow news businesses -- large and small -- to negotiate fair market arraignments for news content.

"Real journalism, created by real journalists, continues to be demanded by Canadians and is vital to our democracy, but it costs real money," said Paul Deegan, the group's president and CEO.

"Original, fact-based, fact-checked journalism from authoritative news brands matters, and publishers look forward to participating in the bargaining process in good faith."

   

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Meta funds a limited number of fellowships that support emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.

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