OTTAWA – Justin Bieber may be one of the best-selling musicians of all time, with a number of Grammy Awards and Junos in his name.
The 28-year-old Ontario-born singer-songwriter has also been named one of the most influential people in the world, and a top 10 most powerful celebrity.
But are his songs Canadian enough for the government’s AC bill?
Spotify, the world’s largest streaming platform, where Bieber’s hits have been listened to millions of times, is in doubt.
It says that songs by Bieber and other famous Canadian artists may not be considered officially Canadian under Bill C-11, which is now moving through parliament.
Among the tracks that are unlikely to qualify under the strict Canadian content rules, says Spotify, are Bieber’s “Ghost”, Tate McRae’s “She’s All I Wanna Be” and the Moroccan-Canadian singer Faouzia’s “Anybody Else”.
The bill aims to update the Broadcasting Act to bring streaming platforms under the same rules as traditional broadcasters, including requiring them to promote Canadian content.
To qualify as a Canadian, songs must tick a number of boxes.
According to current rules, a song must meet two of the following criteria to be considered Canadian: be written exclusively by a Canadian; mainly performed by a Canadian; be broadcast or performed live in Canada; or have texts written exclusively by a Canadian.
Bieber’s “Ghost”, for example, meets only one of these requirements – meaning that traditional broadcasters can no longer count it as Canadian content, and if the bill passes, Spotify and other streaming platforms will not be able to either.
Spotify says without a more flexible definition of what qualifies as Canadian content, it could end up promoting fewer tracks of the nation’s artists than it does on its Canadian playlists.
“It’s important to understand that today’s music world is international in nature, and involves collaborating with artists from around the world,” said Nathan Wiszniak, Spotify’s head of Canadian artist and label marketing.
“Under current Canadian content definitions, many songs that we know and love from Canadian artists will not be classified as Canadian.”
However, the current rules can be changed. Cultural Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has said he plans to ask the Broadcasting Commissioner, the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission, to review the definition of Canadian content.
He has said he will give the guidelines to the CRTC after the bill has passed the parliament. At that time, CRTC would be responsible for regulating streaming platforms and ensuring that they promote qualifying Canadian content.
Spotify curates 90 playlists that put the spotlight on Canadian artists across a variety of genres, including country, Quebec rap and French classics.
The platform says that it currently uses a variety of data sources to determine if a song is Canadian, including self-reporting by the artist.
“This means that we have a much broader category of tracks that we have identified as Canadian compared to what we think will be classified as Canadian under current definitions,” says Wiszniak.
The playlists are tailored to the listener’s musical tastes, based in part on what they tend to listen to. They are also designed to introduce people to Canadian musicians and genres they may not have heard before, he says.
“We are concerned that unless the Canadian content requirements are updated, this bill could limit exposure to new and beloved Canadian artists and in turn lead to overexposure of others, pushing listeners away.”
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet Law at the University of Ottawa, says that the current criteria for what counts as a Canadian song can “lead to some weird quirks.” He says that the definition of Canadian content must be updated in the bill.
“(It) has led to foreign artists performing covers of Canadian songs produced outside of Canada being defined as Canadian, because they meet the standards of music and lyrics,” he says, “while Canadian artists perform songs written by non-Canadians and produced outside. Canada does not count as Canadian because only the artist requirement is met. “
Bill C-11 has passed the House of Commons and is being investigated in the Senate, where it will be discussed when senators return from the summer holidays.
Senators have been inundated with phone calls, emails and letters from opponents of the bill claiming it could affect amateur videos posted on YouTube.
But supporters of the bill say it updates Canada’s broadcasting laws and will help promote Canadian artists.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2022.