Spotify: Streaming bill could mean some artists aren’t considered ‘Canadian’


Justin Bieber may be one of the best-selling musicians of all time, with a string of Grammy Awards and Junos to his name.

The 28-year-old Ontario singer-songwriter has also been named one of the most influential people alive and one of the top 10 most powerful celebrities.

But are his songs Canadian enough for the government’s online streaming bill?

Spotify, the world’s largest streaming platform, on which Bieber’s hits have been heard by millions, has doubts.

It said that songs by Bieber and other well-known Canadian artists under Bill C-11, now moving through Parliament, may not be counted as officially Canadian.

Among the tracks unlikely to qualify under Canada’s strict content rules, Spotify says, are Bieber’s “Ghost”, Tate McRae’s “She’s All I Wanna Be” and Moroccan-Canadian singer Faouzia’s “Anybody Else”.

The bill aims to update the Broadcasting Act to subject streaming platforms to the same rules as traditional broadcasters, including an obligation to promote Canadian content.

To qualify as Canadian, songs must check a number of boxes.

Under current rules, a song must meet two of the following criteria to be counted as Canadian: be written entirely by a Canadian; performed primarily by a Canadian; be broadcast or performed live in Canada; or have the texts written entirely by a Canadian.

Bieber’s “Ghost,” for example, meets only one of those requirements — meaning traditional broadcasters already can’t count it as Canadian content, and if the law passes, neither will Spotify and other streaming platforms.

Spotify says that without a more flexible definition of what qualifies as Canadian content, it could end up promoting fewer tracks from the country’s artists than it currently does on its Canadian playlists.

“It’s important to understand that today’s music world is international in nature and involves collaborations with artists from all over the world,” said Nathan Wiszniak, head of Canadian artist and label marketing at Spotify.

“Under current Canadian content definitions, many of the songs we know and love by Canadian artists would not be classified as Canadian.”

However, the current rules could change. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said he plans to ask the broadcasting regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, to review the definition of Canadian content.

He has said he will provide policy direction to the CRTC after the bill passes Parliament. At this point, the CRTC would be responsible for regulating streaming platforms and ensuring they promote qualifying Canadian content.

Spotify curates 90 playlists featuring Canadian artists across a range of genres including country, Quebec rap and francophone classics.

The platform says it currently uses a number of data sources to determine if a song is Canadian, including the artist’s self-declaration.

“This means we carry a much broader category of tracks that we have identified as Canadian compared to what we believe would be classified as Canadian under current definitions,” says Wiszniak.

The playlists are tailored to a listener’s musical tastes, based in part on what they like to listen to. They should also introduce people to Canadian musicians and genres that they may not have heard before, he says.

“We are concerned that if Canada’s content requirements are not updated, this bill could limit the exposure of emerging and popular Canadian artists and, in turn, overexposure others and crowd out listeners.”

Michael Geist, the Canadian Research Chair in Internet Law at the University of Ottawa, says the current criteria for what counts as a Canadian song “can lead to some weird quirks”. He says the definition of Canadian content in the bill needs to be updated.

“(It) has led to foreign artists who performed covers of Canadian songs produced outside of Canada being defined as Canadian because they met the standards of music and lyrics,” he says, “while Canadian artists performed songs made by Written by non-Canadians and produced outside of Canada from Canada do not count as Canadian as only the artist requirements are met.”

Bill C-11 has passed the House of Commons and is under consideration in the Senate, which is debating when Senators will return from their summer break.

Senators have been inundated with phone calls, emails and letters from opponents of the bill, who claim it could affect amateur videos posted on YouTube.

However, supporters of the bill say it will update Canada’s broadcasting laws and help promote Canadian artists.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2022.

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