The Canadian Senate has passed Bill C-11, also known as the Online Streaming Act. It’s designed to force streaming services to favor (and financially support) Canadian content.
Update on October 11, 2023: The regulatory body CRTC has announced what types of streaming services will be affected by the Online Streaming Act. It has set out that online streaming services that operate in Canada, offer broadcasting content, and earn $10 million or more in annual revenues will need to register with it by November 28, 2023. Social media services and online services that offer podcasts must register, while social media users or individuals who use social media to share podcasts do not have to do so.
The implication is that the services required to register are the ones that will have to adhere to new rules that result from the Act.
What is the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11)?
Bill C-11, legislation debated in Canada’s Parliament for two-and-a-half years, is now an Act that gives the Canadian government more control over what Canadians watch online.
Until now, the government could regulate what its citizens saw on TV and radio, but not on websites and streaming platforms like YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and TikTok. Bill C-11 changes that.
The new law will require streaming services, such as Netflix, Spotify, and Disney+ to financially support Canadian media content, like music and TV shows, by promoting Canadian content and making it discoverable. According to the bill, “online undertakings shall clearly promote and recommend Canadian programming, in both official languages as well as in Indigenous languages.” Violations of the law could result in fines for the platforms from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
What is the purpose of Bill C-11?
The government says the legislation is necessary to impose the same regulations and requirements in place for traditional broadcasters on online media platforms.
Broadcasters are required to spend at least 30% of their revenue on supporting Canadian content. But amid growing popularity of online streaming services, international platforms have been earning revenue from Canadian viewers without needing to reinvest in Canadian content as broadcasters do.
The legislation has had support from industry groups, who say the Act will help boost Canada’s media and creative sectors. Internal documents of the Heritage Department predict an annual 86 million CAD annual increase in new Canadian TV production.
Why is Bill C-11 considered controversial?
The law imposes censorship, essentially giving the Canadian government the power to decide what entertainment to promote to residents rather than allowing content suggestions to be based on an individual’s preferences.
There is also an uproar around what constitutes “Canadian content,” also known as CanCon, under Canadian broadcasting regulations. This is because CanCon must meet a points-based system, and audio-visual content is subject to significant scrutiny. In recent years, there have been instances where productions about Donald Trump and the English Tudors have been greenlit as CanCon, while homegrown stories like The Handmaid’s Tale and Turning Red have not met the standard.
There are also worries among local artists and content creators that Bill C-11 may have unintended consequences for them. Small and digital-first Canadian content producers are especially concerned that the potential restrictions and algorithm changes will hurt rather than enhance their ability to feature on social media platforms in Canada, as the bill doesn’t currently include their content. For Canadian creators who are included, they might meet with red tape that inhibits their global reach.
When will Bill C-11 come into effect?
Bill C-11 has been passed, which means that the Canadian government has approved it. However, before the new regulations and policies come into effect, the CRTC needs to work on creating a plan for how to implement the new powers granted by Bill C-11.
This plan will be developed through a process of consultation with the public, artists, digital creators, and businesses. Once the plan is developed, it will be published in the Canada Gazette, and the public will have a chance to read it and provide feedback. The plan will be updated based on the feedback, and then the CRTC will start its consultation process about how to enforce Bill C-11.
This means that there is still a possibility that the bill’s policies and regulations may be adjusted. Matt Hatfield, campaigns director of internet advocacy organization OpenMedia, has said, “Make no mistake: the fight isn’t over yet. Our user content should not be regulated in practice, and our choices must be respected. That’s where the fight will go next.”
I’m in Canada. What will this mean for me?
If the bill comes into effect without any major changes, for the average Canadian—in the short term—there may not be a significant change. You may see more Canadian shows and songs appearing on your favorite streaming platforms. YouTube is also currently the only social media platform that comes under the scope of the bill, so you may expect to see more Canadian content featured on the platform, too.
In the long term, however, the bill may limit what content Canadians can access. For example, it’s unlikely that streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify will suddenly start investing in Canadian shows more than they’re doing currently, or hire more Canadian actors, because of the bill. They also probably won’t suddenly change their algorithms to promote Canadian content. Instead, the threat of fines may deter these platforms, instead urging them to invest in other markets. This means that Canadians may ultimately have access to fewer shows, movies, videos, and music than they had before.
Are there ways to bypass the effects of Bill C-11? (Spoiler: It’s a VPN)
If you’re in Canada when the bill comes into effect, you may notice that the streaming content that’s recommended for you changes. You might no longer be nudged to watch shows that you like, or even ones that you just might like, because they didn’t qualify as being made in a certain country.
But it’s not really about streaming and entertainment. It’s about the freedom to watch what you choose and to enjoy a service the way it was intended to serve the user, not as dictated by a government—however high-quality the programs served to you might be.
Using a VPN ensures that you can access the free and open internet by placing yourself in a different country when you go online.
Read more: The U.S. Restrict Act explained