ACTRA: We Don't Understand the Internet

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 19, 2009

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) opened hearings today on whether to regulate online content the way radio and television content is currently regulated.

The first presenter was Richard Hardacre, national president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the union representing 21,000 Canadian actors and other media artists. Hardacre argued that Canadian online media should be have to follow the same content rules as television and radio.

Hardacre explained:

This is a battle for the future. What we want is a place for Canadian storytellers and our stories. We want to share our talents with Canadians and with global audiences. We need to get it right now. Tomorrow is too late.

Huh? There has never been a better time for "Canadian storytellers and our stories".

The original impetus for CanCon rules was based on the fact that traditional broadcast media are inherently scarce. There are only so many channels, and only so many people who can afford broadcast licences and radio transmitters.

In that environment of scarcity, it made sense to ensure that at least a certain proportion of the bandwidth be reserved for Canadian content - TV shows, radio programs, songs, whatever - so that they at least had a chance to be heard in a market that would otherwise be dominated and monopolized by content from the (much larger) American media conglomerates.

However, the internet - the medium in which online content is published and distributed - is characterized not by scarcity but by abundance. In practical terms, there is no limit to the number of websites, and the cost of producing and publishing content has collapsed. Anyone can produce content, and anyone can publish it.

Just as important, that content has never been more findable. The extremely clever indexing systems we content consumers have available to use (Google and the other search engines) mean we can easily find any content using any dynamic combination of keywords.

I just can't make sense of this argument from Colin Mochrie, a comedian with This Hour has 22 Minutes:

The space for content is practically endless; however, being endless, content can get easily lost. So how do we make sure Canadians can find their own content? ... When I star in a movie or a TV show, I do it because I want to work, I want people to see the show, to experience it. They can't do that if they aren't given the choice.

I can only come up with two possibilities: either Mochrie, Hardacre and ACTRA simply don't understand how the internet works; or they recognize that the end of scarcity also means the end of their special positions of privilege as employees of traditional content publishers and have chosen to place their professional interests ahead of the public interest.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By JonC (registered) | Posted February 19, 2009 at 15:35:01

I assumed you meant they don't get in the sense that a system to determine whether content on a page was Canadian or not is impractical if not impossible. additionally, are they planning on a) forcing a certain percentage of websites to feature Canadian content (good luck) or users from a Canadian ISP to visit a certain percentage of Canadian content (again, good luck).

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By JonC (registered) | Posted February 19, 2009 at 15:36:42

To finish my thought... but the scarcity angle is equally valid.

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By Sean Roberts (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2009 at 18:08:56

You nailed it Ryan.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted February 19, 2009 at 22:20:06

If the Star article is right in saying that "the performers helped kick off the first day of hearings on regulating online content by urging the CRTC to make Internet service providers follow the same rules as television and radio broadcasters and protect Canadian content online", I think what the CRTC should actually be considering is protecting us from the manifest stupidity of Canadian performers.

Internet service providers?!?!? What are they asking for here, exactly: that Cogeco, my current ISP, ought to force me to visit a certain number of Canadian sites? Would it count if I just left Raise the Hammer open in a tab all day?

The only way the CRTC could hope to enforce something on the net similar to what they do for broadcast TV and radio would be to go after the big content providers, forcing them to include a certain percentage of Canadian content in order to operate in this country.

That would be much more doable than trying to do it at the ISP level. It wouldn't be any less stupid, however. The only possible benefit that would come out of this arrangement would be to increase traffic to non-Canadian sites, and perhaps boost traffic on Canadian sites that fly beneath the CRTC's radar.

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By younion (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2009 at 23:26:29

"It's difficult to make a man understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it." --Upton Sinclair

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By Moseby (registered) | Posted February 20, 2009 at 13:08:52

haha, you had me at the title. I thought the exact same thing when I saw all the Canadian actors on TV complaining about this earlier this week. Don't they understand that the best thing about the internet is that it is not regulated?

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By kevin (registered) | Posted February 22, 2009 at 20:59:43

I wonder how many of the 21000 performers ACTRA represents earn enough to pay their union dues. I refuse to count any of the propagandists and glorified civil servants at the CBC as artists. They waste more money than it takes to open and close 10 hospitals. There's no shame in waiting tables or cleaning toilets, but don't tell me you're an entertainer, if you need my money to prove it. Do your thing and I'll determine if I'm willing to pay for.

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