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Mélanie Joly's Policies Give Me Hope For Canadian Content

Maybe we'll finally see the the rich and hungry ISPs share some of their huge cake with the starving and out-of-breath creative industry.

10/06/2017 17:40 EDT | Updated 23 hours ago
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The Minister of Canadian Heritage, The Honourable Melanie Joly attends the premiere of 'Mary Kills People' at the Official Residence Of Canada on April 20, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif.

We saw it — Mélanie Joly spewed some pre-baked controversial statements last Sunday on Tout le monde en parle regarding Canadians' concerns about paying taxes on the new Netflix deal while weakening our cultural Canadian sovereignty. They became fodder for the media, who were at times demagogic, even almost trolling, creating a big show of smoke and mirrors hiding what's truly at stake: the reproduction of our creativity, of the future of our Canadian culture.

If you take the time to closely read her cultural policies, you'll understand that Mélanie Joly takes our culture and our Canadian identity to heart.

First of all, Mélanie Joly did not give a tax break to an American giant: the American giants, having no physical place of business here, are not subject to our tax laws concerning digital services. The taxation is not in Mélanie Joly's court and that's a whole other issue. This situation would need to be dealt with in an overall manner by the tax legislation and not piecemeal through an amicable agreement between Canadian Heritage and Netflix. The minister's mistake was that she didn't say "that's not in my court" and she didn't show up with Bill Morneau at Tout le monde en parle to explain that part of it... But, well, she's learning politics the hard way, I guess.

This week's collective hysteria hides what's fundamentally at stake: putting the brakes on Internet providers' gluttony for the benefit of our cultural creations, the future of our culture.

Then, apart from the negotiations between Canadian Heritage and Netflix, nothing keeps the Canadian government from revising the Statutes and Regulations of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), something that the minister intends to do, according to her recent speech that you can hear again with this link. Then, our Canadian culture, in a digital environment, could be privileged over the American or other countries' culture.

But, taking into account that Netflix's $500-million investment will surely create work for artisans on Canadian soil, the CRTC reform could likely dictate Netflix's decisions on which scenarios its productions should concentrate on, so that they end up on its Canadian landing page. What's the use in producing content if you can't showcase it?

If you listened to Mélanie Joly's speech, and read closely her proposed framework, the CRTC's Statutes and Regulations reform has yet to happen; the NAFTA needs to be renegotiated, while conserving our vital "cultural exception" that lets us exercise cultural protectionism and not become more Americanized. Especially since the Copyright Act and the (very, very very slow) Copyright Board of Canada also need to be reformed, specifically to ensure fair remuneration for the use of commercial and non-commercial cultural digital content.

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This week's collective hysteria hides what's fundamentally at stake: putting the brakes on Internet providers' gluttony for the benefit of our cultural creations, the future of our culture. And to those who believe that a mandatory royalty fee paid by the Internet service provider to the cultural community is in fact a hidden tax passed on to consumers, here's what I have to say to them on the matter, shamelessly, and for their education, above all.

Taxing my Internet... one more tax?

Regarding cultural consumption in the pre-Internet era, various players cashed in on the more-or-less fair value: retailer, distributor, producer, label, publisher, etc. What was left went to the artist, the creator.

Today, the artist creates, the producer produces, the distributor represents and aggregates the contents in volume, distributes them and delivers them through the Internet service provider (the "ISP") to a digital service platform (the "DSP") like Netflix or Spotify. The consumer also goes through his or her ISP to connect to such platforms. The majority of the zeroes and ones the consumer uses is linked to cultural content like music, videos, movies and TV series. And the digital service platforms take their content from the distributors like the ISP. The ISP is everywhere. But, seriously, everywhere! It's THE almighty middleman.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
A sign is pictured outside a Rogers Communications retail store in Ottawa, July 20, 2017.

The ISPs, like Rogers, Bell, Estlink, Shaw, Cogego, Videotron, Telus, CIK Telecom, TekSavvy, Xplornet and many others, are now monetizing a part of our cultural content's value in a disproportionate way compared to streaming and sales platforms and even more compared to producers and creators who end up with only minute crumbs.

A concept that already exists...

For history's sake, the Canadian Media Fund came to be in 1995 (known then as the Cable Production Fund). Its purpose was to enable those who delivered cultural content from the creator/producers/distributor to the broadcaster/viewer to contribute to the creation of new content.

This gave way to creating and producing our very own cultural content, regardless of our low demographics. When we were but a few warriors facing a cultural conqueror, the fund was in a way our secret weapon to stand up to the Americans. If not, we would have been reduced to watching film and TV adaptations from our neighbours.

Maybe we'll finally see, sooner than later, the rich and hungry ISPs share a small portion of their huge cake with the starving and out-of-breath creative industry?

The arrival of the Cable Production Fund may have increased what we were charged for our few TV channels by Cogeco or Videotron, but it doesn't change the fact that it guaranteed the survival of our creativity, our cultural regeneration.

In short, if you agree with such a logic (that you've been paying for for quite some time), I ask myself why this wouldn't apply to the Internet wire that's just next to the cable, creeping up the exterior wall of your home. More specifically in the context of the cable distributors offering services through fibre-optic Internet (like Youtube TV coming soon).

Light at the end of the tunnel!

The good news is that there is still (and now more than ever) hope. Minister Joly, in one of her recent communications with the media, was very specific: "We want companies that benefit from the new business model to contribute [to the funding], she said. In the context of reforming our laws [on radio broadcasting and telecommunications], we will make sure to have a new model that will guarantee funding."

Maybe we'll finally see, sooner than later, the rich and hungry ISPs share a small portion of their huge cake with the starving and out-of-breath creative industry?

It'll be exciting to watch what happens next!

First published in French by Guillaume Déziel, adapted to English by Josée De Angelis.

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