Controversial bill to regulate online streaming becomes law


A controversial government bill to overhaul Canadian broadcasting laws to regulate streaming services has passed the final hurdle in the Senate and received royal assent Thursday evening.

After years of debate, the Senate gave its final approval Thursday to Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act. It received royal assent shortly after.

The bill makes changes to Canada's Broadcasting Act. The legislation requires streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, to pay to support Canadian media content like music and TV shows.

It also requires the platforms to promote Canadian content. Specifically, the bill says "online undertakings shall clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming, in both official languages as well as in Indigenous languages."

The changes give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada's broadcast regulator, broad powers over digital media companies, including the ability to impose financial penalties for violations of the act.

The government says the legislation is necessary to impose the same regulations and requirements in place for traditional broadcasters on online media platforms. Right now, broadcasters are required to spend at least 30 per cent of their revenue on supporting Canadian content.

"Online streaming has changed how we create, discover, and consume our culture, and it's time we updated our system to reflect that," a government news release on the bill says.

The Conservatives have slammed the bill as an attack on freedom of expression.

"Under this archaic system of censorship, government gatekeepers will now have the power to control which videos, posts and other content Canadians can see online," a Conservative webpage on C-11 says.

The public debate has been contentious, with supporters saying the bill will boost the Canadian media and arts sectors, while critics warn that the bill could over-regulate the internet.

Internet companies affected by the legislation also have criticized C-11. The online video sharing platform TikTok warned the bill could affect its users, despite the government insisting the regulations won't cover user-generated content.

"Without the legislative clarity they asked for, digital-first creators are now left to simply hope that the government keeps its promise not to regulate user-generated content," a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

Google, YouTube's parent company, launched a public campaign against the legislation, saying it would negatively affect users' experience on the platform.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, C-11's sponsor, has dismissed much of the criticism of the bill from the Conservatives and tech companies, describing it as inaccurate.