The European Union Takes Stand to Protect Online Content

The internet has gone from not much more than a novelty in its early years to become perhaps the single most-used piece of human technology ever conceived. With the rapid boom of the digital age, however, comes a boom of digital crime.

Now, the European Union will try to lead the fight against these web bandits.

On September 28, the EU’s European Commission released a communique titled, “Towards an Enhanced Responsibility of Platforms”, aiming to cut illicit online content. Within the document, the continental bloc has set guidelines for various online platforms to help combat illegal content.

Illegal online content has become a problem especially for the sports industry, who have been trying to snuff out the problem for years. For example, the English Premier League (one of association football’s most popular leagues, not only in Europe but globally) tested a new blocking injunction to try and stymie illegal streams of live sporting events.

While the guidelines set out by the European Commission are extensive, they are not legally binding to member-states.

Included in the document is a section devoted to winning over intermediaries to try and join the fight. Articles 12-14 outlines exemptions for these third-parties for any illegal content found on their platforms from legal action from rights-holders.

For example, if an illegal stream of a sporting event is found on a social media platform, the company itself will not be held accountable, only the end-user. That is, if the intermediary had no prior knowledge of the action and takes immediate action against the offender(s).

Currently, these third-parties are under no obligation to monitor the content spread on their platforms. What this means is that they are not held accountable at all for any illicit content found being distributed in their products.

The new guidelines, which are, again, not legally-binding, would remove this layer of protection, and put the onus on these digital companies to act quickly should illegal content find its way onto their platforms.

Rights-holder will likely rejoice at the news the EU is tackling illegal online content, however there are those with feelings of trepidation.

For example, Open Rights Group, an activist group hoping to preserve free speech online, has claimed that this measure will inevitable turn automated. They argue this automation will result in scores of incorrect take-downs, and negatively impact user’s experiences online.

The European Commission is expected to make an addendum to this communique by Spring 2018.

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