No, Bill C-18 Will Not End the Open Web

Seeing a lot of fear-mongering on Canada’s Bill C-18, which will require companies like Google and Facebook to actually pay newspapers for copying their articles into their services. People are calling it a link tax, saying it will lead to the End of the Open Web. How could such a “bad bill” make it so far?

Simply put: Because it doesn’t actually do any of the things these panicked people claim it will.

Here, go read the executive summary of the bill yourself. Far from being a “link tax,” it’s a — belated — intervention of the Canadian government into a market in the public interest.

Basically, Google and Facebook don’t just link to work produced by others anymore; they’ll copy it and present it on their own websites. They defend this as something done for the benefit of users, a convenience, but really it’s so users — you and I — won’t leave their sites. The longer we stay on their pages, the more ads we’ll see, and the more money they collect.

What’s wrong with that? Well, those ads used to be sold on the websites of the people writing those articles — newspapers, magazines, blogs — and so the revenue used to flow directly to those people. The creators. Now that money flows to Google and Facebook, who are getting rewarded for what is basically theft. And that’s one reason — among many, sure, but an important one — why so many news orgs across North America have gone belly up in the last decade and a half.

So Bill C-18 is an attempt to redress that theft, by requiring large search engine companies to enter into a contract with news orgs — or groups of individual news generators — to compensate them for the work they would otherwise take for free.

It’s not even that innovative a bill! It’s based on one Australia passed in 2021. Prior to that bill passing, I saw the same fear-mongering and breathless doom and gloom announcements about the “end” of the Open Web. Facebook and Google also pulled the same childish stunts, cutting off news access for Australians prior to the bill’s passing.

So it passed, and did Australia suddenly become a barren internet wasteland? Ha, no. Facebook and Google obeyed the law, cut deals with 30 different media companies, who raked in millions of additional revenue — revenue that will be used to pay journalists — as a result. Meanwhile, the doom-and-gloom gang have moved on, to beating the same tired drums about Canada’s bill.

They were wrong about Australia’s law. They’re wrong about Canada’s.

For a bit more background on the Australian law, and Facebook’s history of bad behaviour, check out this piece by anti-monopolist Matt Stoller.

Ron Toland @mindbat