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    DM@X in Toronto will be discussing the big Canadian content issues of 2023 and 2024

    • 26.12.2023
    • By Hugh Stephens Blog
    Hugh Stephens Blog

    Around this time of year, I typically write a blog post looking back at the big content issues over the past year and peek forward at the coming 12 months, in Canada, the US and elsewhere.  There is no doubt that the biggest issue can be summarized in just two letters—AI (Artificial Intelligence)–its role in society, it potential misuse, and the challenges and, yes, opportunities that it presents to creators. But there are a number of other key issues as well, particularly if we direct our focus to Canada. These include payment for use of news content by dominant online platforms (i.e. the Online News Act, Bill C-18), the extent and nature of the contribution expected of foreign streamers to funding Canadian content production (i.e. the Online Streaming Act, Bill C-11)–along with a likely revised definition of what constitutes Canadian Content (CanCon)–plus online safety, and the future of digital media. Happily all of these topics, along with AI and Cultural Expression, will be explored in depth at the 10th annual DM (Digital Media)@X (the Crossroads) conference, to be held January 19-20, 2024 at the Faculty of Music (Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building), on the University of Toronto campus.

    DM@X began back in 2015 as a one-day event, largely focussed on digital challenges in the music industry but also including such now-dated topics as “the rise of Netflix” (and Spotify).  Since then, it has grown in strength and reach, including during the COVID hiatus where the proceedings were online, reaching a wider audience. But this year, real-life networking will once again take place.

    The conference will lead off with a report from the strategic communications research firm Nordicity,  reviewing revenues, employment and future trends in the digital media universe in Canada. This will be followed by what promises to be an interesting discussion on how CanCon should be defined, featuring Doug Barrett, Adjunct Professor of Media and Entertainment Management at York’s Schulich School of Business and a prominent entertainment lawyer for more than two decades at McMillan LLP, Valerie Creighton, CEO, Canada Media Fund, and Richard Stursberg,  former President of the Canadian Cable Television Association, Telefilm Canada and head of English services at the CBC, as well as being the author of The Tangled Garden, a Canadian Cultural Manifesto for the Digital Age. Day 1 closes with a panel on how streamers should fund Canadian content, referring to C-11, the Online Streaming Act, featuring former CRTC commissioner and communications lawyer Monique Lafontaine, blogger Howard Law, and Michael MacMillan, CEO of Blue Ant Media.

    Day 2, Saturday, opens with a discussion of the online harms legislation, which is having some difficulty getting out the gate, followed by a panel on C-18, the Online News Act. Then the conference looks at interactive advertising, new developments in digital journalism and the role of social media in online streaming. The keynote luncheon address, explaining where the CRTC stands with its full agenda, will be delivered by CRTC Commissioner for Ontario Bram Abramson. After lunch there will be a panel on AI featuring Stephen Stohn, producer of the Degrassi series and Neal McDougall, Assistant Executive Director of the Writers’ Guild of Canada, moderated by none other than yours truly. The final two panels will be on how broadcasters can support Indigenous, black and other racialized creators, and on the future of personalized audio streaming featuring Xavier “X” Jernigan, Spotify’s AI DJ and Head of Cultural Partnerships. While I haven’t listed every speaker and moderator (and with apologies to those I missed), the full program is available here.

    You can register here for $515.  However, the student rate is only $75.  And registrants who are affiliated with one of the educational or creative institution sponsors (of which there are many), can register for just $185.

    While DM@X will present a great opportunity to examine many of the topics that captured the attention of the content community this year, not everyone will be in Toronto in January so let me offer a quick recap of the issues from my perspective. As mentioned earlier, the big issue—globally—was AI and the impact that it will have on creators and creative industries. Generative AI burst on to the creative scene in 2022, through creation of both images and texts that resembled to a greater or lesser extent original works that had been used to train the AI algorithm. Inevitably this unauthorized ingestion of copyrighted content was going to be challenged in the courts, and 2023 saw a spate of such cases. First out the gate was a suit by Getty Images against Stability AI in the UK, while another was brought by a group of artists in the US against Stable Diffusion, as I wrote about here. These were followed by lawsuits launched by a number of writers against text copying by AI firms. The Hollywood writers’ strike, where screenwriters and actors fought to control the impact of AI on their profession, was another example of creatives trying to come to grips with the AI challenge. In the US, after rejecting several attempts to obtain copyright registration for AI-generated works, the US Copyright Office (USCO) organized a series of public consultations and at the end of August formally announced a study on copyright law and policy issues related to AI. Canada was a bit slower off the mark but announced its own consultation on AI and copyright in October, with submissions requested by January 15, 2024.

    Canada and the US have followed very different paths when it comes to recognizing copyright in AI-generated works. The USCO  has been firm that it will not register works where the content has been generated, rather than just assisted, by AI. In Canada, by contrast, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office will issue a copyright certificate to just about any work, computer generated or not, as long as no- one else has registered a similar work, as I proved when I applied and received a copyright certificate for my 100% computer-generated work earlier this year. Meanwhile efforts are taking place to reach some sort of international consensus on the rules for use of AI, ranging from input and output copyright issues to its potential misuse in a number of areas, where AI when improperly used can lead to invasion of privacy, race or income biases, fake news, manipulated images, appropriation of the right of personality and many other possible harms.

    Other key issues very much in the news in Canada were, as mentioned earlier, online news (Bill C-18), online streaming (C-11) and Canadian content (CanCon). This latter issue will be addressed by the CRTC as it develops regulations to implement the Online Streaming Act. Both C-18 and C-11 became law in 2023 after a fairly lengthy legislative process> Much work, however, remains to be done regarding the implementing regulations. In the case of C-18, after Meta’s refusal to comply with the intent of the bill by blocking Canadian news on its platform, a deal was cut with Google to bring them onboard with the legislation although it is fair to say that the final outcome was likely not what many in the news media had expected when the bill began its journey through Parliament.

    All these topics, and more, will be thoroughly examined at DM@X. If you are interested in digital content issues in Canada, this conference is not to be missed.

    This article was first published on Hugh Stephens Blog