With new trade deal the USMCA, Canada will hold on to free speech

Chapter 19 of the new trade deal guarantees social media companies won't be liable for users content

One of the fundamental principles central to western democracies is freedom of speech. Oddly enough in the past five years we have seen a decline of freedom of speech to it being held to a purely principled position.

This is both domestic and foreign. Bills that received noticeable outrage from certain groups that were implemented or proposed for the purposes of stomping out hate speech include Bill C-16, which adds gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Motion 103, aimed at condemning Islamophobia.

Recently in the EU, a vote was passed to introduce new rules surrounding copyright law and fair use on the Internet. This would make websites and content hosting services (predominantly social media websites like YouTube and Facebook) liable to copyright infringement for posts made by their user base.

In an interesting twist, the new USMCA free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico has provisions in it that will help ensure that third-party posts will not be deleted by websites hosting the content. The new rules are found in chapter 19 of USMCA, the digital trade section.

A stark contrast from the EU’s Copyright Directive, USMCA will guarantee that social media companies will not be liable for content shared by users.

Canada’s current system grants the opportunity for copyright holders to report that there has been copyright infringement, but there is no functional plan in place to take down the material. As such it often results in a court case such as in Trader Corporation v. CarGurus. The case was regarding the use and repurposing of motor vehicle images. That case resulted in a win for the original copyright holders.

This method of dispute resolution will be maintained while also being bolstered by Canada’s adoption of the safe harbour provision. While there were no operational directions that needed to be followed, American media companies would still end up deleting certain copyrighted material as a precautionary method. Now that Canada is under the protection of this provision, we will likely see a decrease in content pulled from social media platforms.

While many will immediately think of previous noteworthy copyright cases, the scope has increased to encompass common internet culture as well. If you’ve spent any amount of time on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve likely come across a meme.

Very often these humorous pictures are repurposed from already existing media content which would fall under the domain of copyrighted material. Because of the evolutionary nature and remix culture surrounding internet humour, it will become increasingly difficult to regulate copyrighted content.

While countries in the EU have lost their footing and fallen into a bureaucratic nightmare in an attempt to clamp down on copyright infringement, Canada has taken a step towards ensuring that our internet remains as free as it can be.