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UK and EU ISPs Warn of “regressive” New Internet Copyright Laws

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 (11:48 am) - Score 1,193

The European Internet Services Providers Association, which represents ISPs from across the UK and EU, has warned that the European Commission’s new Digital Single Market proposals include “regressive” measures that could make ISPs more responsible for the activity of their users.

At present the EU’s Safe Harbour provisions exist to remove Internet access and content providers, in certain circumstances, from liability for the illegal activity of their customers. This is necessary because it’s often unrealistic to expect that a commercial ISP can completely control what their users say, do or post online, particularly as access providers can only control content on their own servers and not the wider Internet.

Similarly it would be very difficult to run any kind of interactive news or social network if the entire website or company suddenly took on liability for what an individual user posted, which could also threaten free speech. Commercial companies also make for terrible law enforcement agencies and may adopt judgements in order to protect their business rather than the user or free speech.

The complex issues were aptly demonstrated this week by Facebook’s initial and much derided decision to ban the historic picture of a naked child caught up in Vietnam war (here). Suffice to say that Internet content providers can easily find themselves caught between a legal rock and a hard place, which won’t be helped by a decision that could force them to accept even more liability.

EuroISPA Statement

In today’s copyright ‘modernisation’ proposal, the Commission has rocked the legal foundations of Europe’s digital economy – namely the intermediary liability safe harbours of the E-Commerce Directive – and has put a chill on information society innovation – by paving the way for the introduction of news article “snippet taxes” across Europe.

We note with concern that the EC is seeking:

* to force hosting sites to monitor user-uploads for similarity to works where media companies claim copyright, and empower those companies to prevent the upload from working;
* to give media companies a new power to control the distribution of news articles for 20 years.

Meanwhile, photographers are left at risk of being sued for copyright infringement by architects when they take a photo with a building in the background; the Commission has passed up the opportunity to introduce a so-called ‘panorama’ exception to fix this problem.

Taken together, these issues point to a legislative proposal which contains little progressive measures for digital citizens and providers of innovative online services.

EuroISPA has consistently advocated for a copyright framework that supports consumer rights and promotes the development of innovative, crowd-based online services – the kind of reforms that could open up a true Digital Single Market.

Unfortunately, the European Commission today rejected the opportunity to make Europe a regulatory leader in this regard.

As usual the EC has presented its new proposals (here) in a more positive light and you have to read between the lines to find the more regressive elements (here).

Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    I think the restriction in “safe harbour” rules is primarily aimed squarely at end-user driven content sharing sites (like YouTube) rather than ISPs. Making ISPs responsible for policing the actions of their customers would be vastly more difficult and controversial. Conveniently for the EU the content sharing sites are predominantly American so they are less likely to get opposition from local companies.

    What with recent rulings on the “Apple state aid” case and noises from the US government about targeting their corporations, I can imagine an almighty row brewing up.

    1. Avatar Optimist says:

      Indeed, remember the ludicrous decision to make Google censor search results, rather than take action against sites hosting defamatory material?

      To look on the bright side, the EU is now looking shakier than ever and Europeans will be able to get their democracies back.

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