Timothy M. Denton

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Harper/Netflix/leadership

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I see that Prime Minister Harper has made taxing Canadians' access to Netflix an election issue. How could it not be? The Canadian production community would have every Canadian website regulated under the Broadcasting Act if they could have their way. Just a little tax, just a tiny bit of more regulation: it won't hurt a bit. That is the argument they make. I know, I have heard them.

 

As readers will be aware, the penalties for broadcasting without a licence are enormous. According to the arguments of the production community's lawyers, website content can be, should be and must be regulated under the Broadcasting Act. If it is full motion video, it is therefore "programming" and it is therefor "broadcasting" within the meaning of the Act.

Go to any newspaper on line. Observe the embedded videos. The Globe and Mail and the National Post are therefore broadcasting undertakings, according to the CRTC and the advocates of the program production community. The CRTC in its wisdom holds that such embedded videos make the associated website "broadcasting" but decline to regulate it as such. The Commission "exempts" them from broadcasting licensing obligations. Just play nice and obey the terms of the exemption order and you too can publish to the Internet.

In a preemptive manoeuver, our  Dear Leader has got ahead of the issue by saying no to a Netflix tax.  That is to say no to regulating video across the Internet as "broadcasting". Harper the politician has to frame the discussion in terms people can understand: if it is regulable as broadcasting, it is taxable. The number of people able to relate to the political consequences of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when English newspapers no longer had to be licenced by the Crown, are depressingly few. Nevertheless Harper and I have the same idea.

There shall be no licensing by the state of point to point communications via the Internet, whether by print, video, or any ideographic methods.

Harper might well be able to lecture the senior university students on the political implications of the Glorious Revolution for free speech, the Bill of Rights, and the political stability of the future United Kingdom, and much else besides. But as the man with an election to win, he has to address the issue in terms that average people relate to. The message is: No new tax on websites to pay for the Canadian television production industry [beyond their already large annual subsidies of hundreds of millions of dollars.]

I think that is called leadership. Starting the debate about the future of Canadian broadcasting with "no Netflix tax" is an excellent way of making one's point.

 

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Tuesday, 19 November 2019
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