I Share Content Too: Freeland

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says she routinely shares password-protected news stories with friends. Freeland’s remarks followed a Federal Court ruling won by Department of Justice lawyers that permits password sharing, a Canadian first.

“As you guys know I used to be a journalist,” Freeland told reporters. “I still read two newspapers every day in print and take pictures of the articles that I share with people.”

Freeland did not name her subscriptions. The finance minister was previously deputy editor of the Globe & Mail.

“We work for you guys,” Freeland told reporters. Her comments were in response to an unrelated question from Canadian Press.

“I am a huge believer in the value of the work that all of you guys do, the work of professional, salaried journalists,” said Freeland. She did not elaborate.

Federal lawyers on May 31 won a court judgment approving Canadians’ sharing of passwords to paywalled media content. The ruling came in a Blacklock’s lawsuit against Parks Canada for ignoring repeated warnings and “plainly visible” terms and conditions against sharing passwords without payment or permission.

Evidence showed Genevieve Patenaude, a Parks Canada manager, bought a single Blacklock’s password and then emailed it to any co-worker who asked, at least nine people, “if you ever need to access any Blacklock’s article.” Parks Canada had 2,160 employees at the time.

Patenaude refused to answer Blacklock’s when asked what she did with the password and later testified she was confused. Blacklock’s lawyers argued Parks Canada’s misconduct was unethical and a clear violation of property rights under the Copyright Act.

“Enormous Implications”

The Federal Court ruled anyone who believed they had a “legitimate business reason” could share a password to access paywalled media content. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair at the University of Ottawa, called the ruling a “huge win” for people who wanted free content with “enormous implications for libraries, education and users more broadly.”

Blacklock’s argued its password system was standard in the news business. Globe & Mail executives in 2020 testimony at the Commons finance committee said newsrooms had no choice but to sell passwords to paywalled content. “The majority of our revenue comes from the 120,000 digital subscribers and 110,000 print subscribers who currently pay to consume our journalism,” testified then-publisher Philip Crawley.

“The cornerstone of our business is not advertising which is a revenue stream that shrinks each year,” said Crawley. “No, the present and the future of the Globe is founded on readers and users paying for our content. More than 60 percent of our revenue comes from subscriptions, print and digital. Advertising revenue is now only 33 percent.”

Crawley said the Globe sold passwords and “put that reporting behind the paywall to drive subscriptions.” Copyright protection was “very important,” he said.

The Commons heritage committee in a 2019 report recommended that cabinet tighten the Copyright Act to protect creators from haphazard sharing “when the work is commercially available.” Nothing for sale should be copied without payment or permission, said the report Shifting Paradigms.

“This is not just a clinical report,” Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin (Toronto-Danforth), then-chair of the heritage committee, said at the time. “Creators talked about the impact on income they need to keep producing the works that we love.” Cabinet never acted on the report.

By Staff

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