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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Canadian Content Regulations on the Web? Google Says No

In the 1970s, Canada's cultural industry received a major boost from the Trudeau government's Canadian Content legislation (Can-Con, or Cancon). On March 30, 2010, The Globe and Mail published a report on the Commons Heritage Committee's efforts to come to terms with Can-Con and  New Media.

The Heritage Committee invited Jacob Glick, Canada Policy Counsel for Google Inc., to talk to them about new media issues. Glick told the MPs that Can-Con rules should not apply to the Internet:
For decades, Canadian content rules have controlled what programs air on television during prime time and what songs are heard on the radio. Those rules no longer apply to Canadians who increasingly go the web for music and video.

Google’s point man for Canadian policy, Jacob Glick, told MPs that while those measures are needed, Ottawa should not attempt to “roll back the clock” by regulating Canadian content online.

“More Canadian content can be seen, created and enjoyed in ways never before possible,” said Mr. Glick, Canada Policy Counsel for Google Inc.,. He said Canadians can already watch hours upon hours of Canadian content on YouTube (which is owned by Google) without ever watching the same thing twice.
I'm torn by this advice.

On the one hand, I understand that search algorithms determine relevance to searchers' requests using multiple criteria, including geography, so Canadian searchers are somewhat more likely to receive Canadian webpages in search results.

On the other hand, I'm skeptical of any business that claims regulation would be counter-productive in its domain. Many Wall Street firms are trying, with limited success, to make that same claim with regard to their creative financial solutions.

I'm also skeptical because it seems Google's entire business plan can be encapsulated in Benjamin Jowett's words: "Never retreat. Never explain. Just get it done and let them howl."

The case of Google Buzz is illustrative. Instead of consulting with Canada's Office of the Privacy Commissioner, or any other privacy advocates, before launching Google Buzz, Google launched first, then proposed to address privacy concerns afterward.

I guess it's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

Except Google's not begging. Google is a large corporation with political leverage and a business agenda.

Canadian MPs will have to use a case-by-case approach to determine how best to accommodate the anarchy of the Wild-West Internet within the more Canadian ideal of peace, order and good government. The answer may not be regulation, but in any case the answer will never be to act according to ideological purity.

With all this in mind, perhaps we should re-examine Google's recent conflict with the government of China concerning censorship. After all, isn't Can-Con itself a kind of censorship?

We may have different emotional reactions to these stories, but emotions should not blind us to their common denominator: the conflict between a corporate agenda and a nation's sovereignty - a war with many fronts.


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