The Association of Commercial Television in Europe (ACT) welcomed the publication of the European Commission’s Communication Tackling Illegal Content Online: Towards an enhanced responsibility of online platforms. The Communication’s self-regulatory approach involves online platforms taking greater responsibility for removing illegal content uploaded by users.
The Communication is clear that violations of intellectual property – primarily copyright – are one of the illegal practices which must be tackled. As part of the ongoing reform of the Copyright Directive, the Commission has also proposed that some online platforms should be responsible for either seeking copyright licences or removing unlicensed works.
According to the ACT, these reforms are necessary and entirely consistent with existing case law and legislation. ACT has consistently supported action to address the harm caused by unlawful online hosting of TV programmes and films.
“Illegal online versions destroy the financial value of TV and film productions and ultimately lead to less content for audiences to enjoy,” declared Agnieszka Horak, ACT’s Director of Legal and Public Affairs. “The Commission’s ambitions for the Digital Single Market will only be met if it tackles this destruction of value in the audio-visual sector. Respect for intellectual property rights is one of the standard rules of business. Until now, modest attempts to ease online platforms into taking greater responsibility for the content they host have been unfairly criticised.”
“Commercial broadcasters are encouraged that intellectual property violations are now among the issues the Commission says online platforms must address. Today’s Communication complements the legislative proposals already under negotiation to clarify the responsibility of online platforms as part of reforms to the Copyright Directive. Both initiatives need to be pursued in parallel.”
“The EU is taking increasingly confident steps to get online platforms playing by the same rules as everyone else. The Commission has set out today an initial list of practical measures that responsible platforms must now take. Clear requirements for platform responsibility will benefit all Europeans,” she concluded.
As announced by President Juncker in his Letter of Intent accompanying his State of the Union speech of September 13th, the European Commission’s guidelines and principles for online platforms aim to increase the proactive prevention, detection and removal of illegal content inciting hatred, violence and terrorism online. The increasing availability and spreading of terrorist material and content that incites violence and hatred online is a serious threat to the security and safety of EU citizens. It also undermines citizens’ trust and confidence in the digital environment – a key engine of innovation, growth and jobs.
Following up on the European Council conclusions of June 2017, echoed by G7 and G20 leaders, the proposed measures constitute a first element of the Anti-Terrorism package announced by President Juncker. They will contribute to making the fight against illegal content more effective and will advance the ongoing work to build an effective and genuine EU Security Union and a stronger Digital Single Market.
Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said: “We are providing a sound EU answer to the challenge of illegal content online. We make it easier for platforms to fulfil their duty, in close cooperation with law enforcement and civil society. Our guidance includes safeguards to avoid over-removal and ensure transparency and the protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.”
Vera Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: “The rule of law applies online just as much as offline. We cannot accept a digital Wild West, and we must act. The code of conduct I agreed with Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft shows that a self-regulatory approach can serve as a good example and can lead to results. However, if the tech companies don’t deliver, we will do it.”
Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union, said: “The digital world offers unprecedented opportunities but, in the wrong hands, poses a serious threat to our security. Internet companies have a central role in eliminating online terrorist material by stepping up their efforts and showing corporate social responsibility for the digital age.”
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: “The Commission has decided to thoroughly tackle the problem of illegal content online. The situation is not sustainable: in more than 28 per cent of cases, it takes more than one week for online platforms to take down illegal content. Today we provide a clear signal to platforms to act more responsibly. This is key for citizens and the development of platforms.”
With the surge of illegal content online, including online terrorist propaganda and xenophobic and racist speech inciting violence and hatred, online platforms have an increasingly important role to play and need to step up their social responsibility. The new guidance issued today calls on online platforms to further boost their efforts to prevent the spread of illegal content. Given their increasingly important role in providing access to information, the Commission expects online platforms to take swift action over the coming months, in particular in the area of terrorism and illegal hate speech – which is already illegal under EU law, both online and offline.
Proactive and effective weeding out of illegal content
As a first step to effectively fight illegal content online, the Commission is proposing common tools to swiftly and proactively detect, remove and prevent the reappearance of such content:
Detection and notification: Online platforms should cooperate more closely with competent national authorities, by appointing points of contact to ensure they can be contacted rapidly to remove illegal content. To speed up detection, online platforms are encouraged to work closely with trusted flaggers, i.e., specialised entities with expert knowledge on what constitutes illegal content. Additionally, they should establish easily accessible mechanisms to allow users to flag illegal content and to invest in automatic detection technologies.
Effective removal: Illegal content should be removed as fast as possible, and can be subject to specific timeframes, where serious harm is at stake, for instance in cases of incitement to terrorist acts. The issue of fixed timeframes will be further analysed by the Commission. Platforms should clearly explain to their users their content policy and issue transparency reports detailing the number and types of notices received. Internet companies should also introduce safeguards to prevent the risk of over-removal.
Prevention of re-appearance: Platforms should take measures to dissuade users from repeatedly uploading illegal content. The Commission strongly encourages the further use and development of automatic tools to prevent the re-appearance of previously removed content.
The EC communication is a first step and follow-up initiatives will depend on the online platforms’ actions to proactively implement the guidelines. The Commission will carefully monitor progress made by the online platforms over the next months and assess whether additional measures are needed in order to ensure the swift and proactive detection and removal of illegal content online, including possible legislative measures to complement the existing regulatory framework. This work will be completed by May 2018.