Friday, February 20, 2009

The CRTC & User-Generated Content

In announcing the New Media hearings back in October, the CRTC placed upfront its position on user-generated content. It said, "the Commission is not concerned with user-generated broadcasting content. That is, the Commission does not seek to inquire into the content, quality
or availability of material created by individual Canadians in a personal capacity."
It seems that the CRTC is not interested in regulating what people post on YouTube. While this is reassuring, the Commission's lack of concern with user-generated content also seems out of step with what the Internet is all about and what seem to be some of its most exciting opportunities.

YouTube at one point announced that it would pay for user-generated content. Google lets users generate revenue through its ad services. It seems that these types of models, that treat user-generated content as potentially valuable, attractive, and on par with other types of content, are the way of the future.

Ira Wagman proposes an idea:
What would happen if the CRTC brought down a levy on ISPs to a create a fund that any Canadian could access to produce works for new media -- not just those who do this for a living? Now that would be interesting, wouldn't it?
There may be fears that models that reward user-generated content may not work to sufficiently provide high quality content. Bruce Dinsmore of the online series Tetes a Claques argues:

While there is no question amateur videos can entertain and inform us, they alone cannot be relied upon to share the important stories that Canadians want to share and tell. For that we need high-quality, professionally produced content, including scripted drama," Dinsmore said. "If we want a wide array of content produced we need new sources of funding.

The CRTC's attitude towards user-generated content means, however, that Canadian voices - Canadian user-generated content - don't count as "Canadian content". If the CRTC creates a new media fund it will be geared towards whatever the CRTC considers to be professional content. If the CRTC decides to make 'shelf-space' for Canadian content, it won't be a space for the kind of online democracy we might think the Internet opens doors to; it will be 'shelf-space' for traditional Canadian broadcasts - similar to the kind we see on TV.

As Ira points out, this would involve an attempt by the CRTC or delegated body to try to define an increasingly blurry line between professional and user-generated content, and, in the case of a levy, to define how proceeds are distributed. Such schemes are never satisfactory and are always open to contestation. Take the example of the blank tape levy; at a time when the Conservatives have mused about stepping away from the long-contested levy approach (also here) to copyright regulation, is this the direction in which the CRTC wishes to move? (Of course, there is also the prospect of an ISP copyright levy..., which would mean two levies... or more) Is there any reason why funds for new media production could not continue to come out of general government funds rather than through a rather contestable model that treats ISPs as old media broadcasters? Why involve ISPs in content-production funding?

The levy issue raises interesting questions with regard to net neutrality. It produces the prospect that ISPs could be required to pay content producers through a levy while content producers, should net neutrality arguments fail, pay ISPs for priority carriage. Sounds like an incestuous nightmare to me.

The CRTC might find itself attempting to shore up a gap between user-generated content and professional content; stopping up the exciting potential that the Internet offers when it acts as a common carrier and places user-generated up-and-coming content in direct competition with professional content; and trying to sort out back-and-forth payments between content producers, collecting societies, and ISPs.

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