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Disney wants Ottawa to redefine what counts as a Canadian film

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The online streaming bill would update Canada’s streaming laws to apply to streaming platforms, including Disney+ and Netflix.BRENDAN McDERMID/Reuters

Walt Disney Co. wants the federal government to redefine what counts as a Canadian film, saying some of its productions made in Canada with a Canadian cast and crew — and telling a Canadian story — don’t qualify under current rules .

David Fares, vice president of global public policy at the Walt Disney Co., told a Senate committee on Thursday that Disney wants an online streaming bill that is currently being passed through Parliament to define which films and programs Canadian TV shows are considered more flexible.

Mr. Fares said that recent productions such as turn redthe story of a Chinese-Canadian teenager growing up in Toronto with Ottawa-born Sandra Oh; Barks, a National Geographic series recounting the experience of immigrants in New France and their descendants, filmed in Quebec; and Washington Blacka forthcoming series based on a novel by Canadian author Esi Edugyan, are not considered Canadian because Disney, an American company, owns the intellectual property rights.

The online streaming bill would update Canada’s streaming laws to apply to streaming platforms, including Disney+ and Netflix. Like traditional broadcasters, platforms should promote Canadian content and support it financially.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has announced that he will ask the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to update the definition of Canadian content.

Producers of content defined as Canadian could benefit from financial incentives, including tax breaks.

Fares told the Senate Transportation and Communications Committee on Thursday that a new CRTC definition should provide “flexibility when it comes to Canadian content.”

He said Disney has a “special relationship with Canada” and has spent around $3 billion here in recent years, including 18 TV shows.

“We hope to invest more in Canada, and a flexible regulatory regime will allow us to maximize those future investments, he said.

He called for a new definition of what counts as a Canadian film or TV show to remedy an “anomaly” that allows certain productions not made in Canada and not telling Canadian stories to qualify because the intellectual property belongs to a Canadian company.

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Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said Disney’s testimony on the definition of Canadian content “highlights a key fiction of the system that it often has little to do with Canadian law. stories.”

“We know that there are many Canadian productions out there in almost every way but don’t qualify because the system is focused on Canadian ownership rather than Canadian stories,” he said.

Spotify representatives have argued for more flexibility on how a Canadian song is officially defined under Bill C-11. They told the committee that Spotify promotes Canadian playlists spanning genres from Quebec rap to country, and uses multiple sources to classify a work as Canadian, including if the artist says they’re Canadian.

But under CRTC rules — which specify who owns the intellectual property of the work — some Canadian artists, including country singers producing music in Nashville, Tennessee, might not qualify.

The music streaming platform said even a Justin Bieber song might not be considered Canadian.

But Reynolds Mastin, CEO of the Canadian Media Producers Association, said “people sometimes forget that Canadian content rules exist to determine access to financial incentives from the federal government.”

He said the financial aid should benefit Canadian businesses.

“It’s great when a novel by a Canadian author becomes a hit television series. But if the television rights to that series belong to a company based in the United States and the profits flow out of Canada, that project should not be defined as Canadian content.

Regan Smith, head of public policy and government affairs at Spotify, told the Senate committee that the company supports the bill’s goal of promoting Canadian creative work, but wants to personalize music to listeners’ tastes.

Forcing it to play unselected Canadian songs could hurt an artist’s popularity and sales, Spotify has warned. Indeed, some listeners might not like songs from Canadian playlists. Not clicking on the song could signal the algorithm that it’s not popular, giving it less exposure.

Nathan Wiszniak, head of Canadian artist and label partnerships at Spotify, who testified before the committee, told The Globe and Mail:

“We support the objectives of C-11, but are concerned that, as currently drafted, the bill could inadvertently disrupt the discovery of Canadian artists on streaming platforms, thus harming the industry and creators.

Laura Scaffidi, spokesperson for Mr. Rodriguez, said the minister “will direct the CRTC to examine all ways to make Canadian content accessible”.