In September, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered Netflix to hand over information about their on-demand movie and television business. (They also asked Google for data on its Canadian YouTube viewers but it was a request, not an order.)
Aside from wanting intelligence on an industry that’s outgrowing cable, satellite, and airwaves, the regulator was testing its authority regarding “Over the Top” programming delivered via the Internet.
Netflix refused to comply, for good reason. They’re not Canadian, therefore not subject to our legislation. They resumed serving their 50 million subscribers in over 40 countries, while the CRTC retreated to ponder its relevance.
The CRTC, which was created when our Broadcasting Act was passed in 1968, says any transmission of programming is broadcasting. So if something is being transmitted in Canada, it’s under CRTC jurisdiction, right?
Wrong. Radio, TV and telecom are apples. Renting, streaming and sharing stuff over the Internet is orange.
To be fair, the CRTC amended the Act as recently as 2009 to include exemptions for “new media” (remember that term?) and Internet providers, only requiring them to submit information about their activities on demand.
Which brings us back to the puzzled Netflix executives in a meeting room with Canadian bureaucrats. Expansion plans, developing original programming, running a successful business…some things are more important than pesky government.
What happened? Nothing. The CRTC chose not to fight Goliath in court. Maybe they’ll plan to reform their magna carta, who knows?
Or a new magna carta will emerge. One that is geo-politically agnostic.
Earlier this year, the guy who invented — yes, invented — the World Wide Web called for a new charter to promote the spirit of the web and the rights of surfers everywhere. Sir Tim Berners-Lee believes a global constitution is needed to protect Internet content and usage against government and corporate influence.
Part of an initiative called “the web we want”, his plan is to write a digital bill of rights in each country – principles championed by you and I that will be embraced by governments and corporations.
It could happen.
Listen, I’m not one to suggest the CRTC’s only purpose is to force-feed us Canadian content. I believe their intention is to enrich Canadian culture, maintain the dignity of bilingualism, encourage Canadian expression, and meet the wants and needs of Canadians.
But they’ll have to follow our lead. We’re a multicultural country that needs to be connected uninhibitedly to the rest of the world. It’s what we love about the Internet. It’s the web we want.
Before I go, let me wish you a merry year-end and a happy fiscal new year. A safe, and happy holiday season to you all.