The UK Government recently outlines its plans for appointing Ofcom as the internet censor overseeing new EU censorship rules introduced under a new Audio Visual Media Services AVMS directive.
In Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has pitched for similar powers, with the government currently considering the BAI's position alongside the appointment of an online safety commissioner.
The BAI believes that it could become an EU-wide regulator for online video, because Google and Facebook's European operations are headquartered in Dublin.
Earlier this year, the government announced plans that would see a future online safety commissioner given the power to issue administrative fines, meaning the commissioner would not have to go through a court.
Requirements for Video Sharing Platforms in the Audiovisual Media Services Directive
The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) is the regulatory framework governing EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media. The government launched a consultation on implementing the newly introduced and amended
provisions in AVMSD on 30 May, which is available
One of the main changes to AVMSD is the extension of scope to cover video-sharing platforms (VSPs) for the first time. This extension in scope will likely capture audiovisual content on social media sites, video-sharing sites, pornography sites
and live streaming services. These services are required to take appropriate measures to: protect children from harmful content; protect the general public from illegal content and content that incites violence or hatred, and; respect certain
obligations around commercial communications.
The original consultation, published on 30 May, outlined the government's intention to implement these requirements through the regulatory framework proposed in the
Online Harms White Paper . However, we also indicated the possibility of an interim approach ahead of the regulatory framework coming into force to ensure we meet the transposition deadline of 20 September 2020. We now plan to take forward
this interim approach and have written to stakeholders on 23 July to set out our plans and consult on them.
This open letter and consultation sent to stakeholders, therefore, aims to gather views on our interim approach for implementing requirements pertaining to VSPs through appointing Ofcom as the national regulatory authority. In particular, it asks
how to transpose the definition of VSPs into UK law, and which platforms are in the UK's jurisdiction;
the regulatory framework and the regulator's relationship with industry;
the appropriate measures that should be taken by platforms to protect users;
the information gathering powers Ofcom should have to oversee VSPs;
the appropriate enforcement and sanctions regime for Ofcom;
what form the required out of court redress mechanism should take; and
how to fund the extension of Ofcom's regulatory activities from industry.
Update: The press get wind of the EU censorship nightmare of the new AVMS directive
The government is considering giving powers to fine video-sharing apps and websites to the UK's media censor Ofcom.
The proposal would see Ofcom able to impose multi-million pound fines if it judges the platforms have failed to prevent youngsters seeing pornography, violence and other harmful material.
Ofcom are already the designated internet censor enforcing the current AVMS censorship rules. These apply to all UK based Video on Demand platforms. The current rules are generally less stringent than Ofcom's rules for TV so have not particularly
impacted the likes of the TV catch up services, (apart from Ofcom extracting significant censorship fees for handling minimal complaints about hate speech and product placement).
The notable exception is the regulation of hardcore porn on Video on Demand platforms. Ofcom originally delegated the censorship task to ATVOD but that was a total mess and Ofcom grabbed the censorship roles back. It too became a bit of a non-job
as ATVOD's unviable age verification rules had effectively driven the UK adult porn trade into either bankruptcy or into foreign ownership. In fact this driving the porn business offshore gave rise to the BBFC age verification regime which is
trying to find ways to censor foreign porn websites.
Anyway the EU has now created an updated AVMS directive that extends the scope of content to be censored, as well as the range of websites and apps caught up the law. Where as before it caught TV like video on demand websites, it now catches
nearly all websites featuring significant video content. And of course the list of harms has expanded into the same space as all the other laws clamouring to censor the internet.
In addition, all qualifying video websites will have to register with Ofcom and have to cough up a significant fee for Ofcom's censorship 'services'.
The EU Directive is required to be implemented in EU members' laws by 20th September 2020. And it seems that the UK wants the censors to be up on running from the 19th September 2020.
Even then, it would only be an interim step until an even more powerful internet censor gets implemented under the UK's Online Harms plans.
The Telegraph reported that the proposal was quietly agreed before Parliament's summer break and would give Ofcom the power to fine tech firms up to 5% of their revenues and/or block them in the UK if they failed to comply with its rulings. Ofcom
has said that it is ready to adopt the powers.
A government spokeswoman told the BBC.
We also support plans to go further and legislate for a wider set of protections, including a duty of care for online companies towards their users.
But TechUK - the industry group that represents the sector - said it hoped that ministers would take a balanced and proportionate approach to the issue. Its deputy chief executive Antony Walker said:
Key to achieving this will be clear and precise definitions across the board, and a proportionate sanctions and compliance regime, said
The Internet Association added that it hoped any intervention would be proportionate. Daniel Dyball, the association's executive director.said:
Any new regulation should be targeted at specific harms, and be technically possible to implement in practice - taking into account that resources available vary between companies.
The BBC rather hopefully noted that if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, we will not be bound to transpose the AVMSD into UK law.
Facebook has agreed to settle a years-long legal battle with a French teacher who sued after the social media giant shuttered his account when he posted a renowned 19th-century painting that features a woman's genitals.
The dispute dates to 2011, when the teacher, Frederic Durand, ran foul of Facebook's censorship of nude images after posting a link that include a thumbnail image of L'Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), an 1866 painting by the
realist painter Gustave Courbet.
Durand argued that Facebook was infringing on his freedom of expression. He sought 20,000 euro in damages and initially won his case in a Paris court but a higher court overturned the ruling in March 2018.
Durand had been preparing an appeal, but in a statement to AFP, his lawyer Stephane Cottineau said a deal had been reached for Facebook to make an unspecified donation to a French street art association called Le MUR (The WALL).
YouTube has a long censorship list, including the politically right, the politically incorrect, and anyone who may offend touchy corporate advertisers. So more or less anybody could fall foul at any time
You'd think YouTube would be keen on supporting creators who generate content and income for the company. But Google is obviously a bit too rich to care much, and so content creators have to live with the knowledge that their livelihoods could
easily be wiped out by even the most trivial of political or PC transgressions.
YouTube arbitrarily bans and demonitises those from a long list of no-noes, including being on the political right, offending the easily offended, being politically incorrect, or of course saying something corporate advertisers don't like.
Needless to say there is a long list of aggrieved creators that have an axe to grind with YouTube, and plenty more who are walking on eggshells trying to make sure that they are not the next victims.
And now they're fighting back. An obscure 'YouTubers union' has joined forces with IG Metall -- Germany an Europe's largest industrial union, to form the campaigning group FairTube.
FairTube has called for the following from YouTube and given it until 23 August to engage with it, or else.
Publish all categories and decision criteria that affect monetization and views of videos
Give clear explanations for individual decisions -- for example, if a video is demonetized, which parts of the video violated which criteria in the Advertiser-Friendly Content Guidelines?
Give YouTubers a human contact person who is qualified and authorized to explain decisions that have negative consequences for YouTubers (and fix them if they are mistaken)
Let YouTubers contest decisions that have negative consequences
Create an independent mediation board for resolving disputes (here the Ombuds Office of the Crowdsourcing Code of Conduct can offer relevant lessons)
Formal participation of YouTubers in important decisions, for example through a YouTuber Advisory Board
At first glance one may wonder if the union has any way to generate a little leverage over YouTube but they have been thinking up a few ideas:
Contesting the status of YouTube creators as self-employed, thus creating a greater duty of care on YouTube towards its creators.
Claiming GDPR violations due to YouTube's refusal to give creators the data it stores about them and which it does share with advertisers.
Old fashioned collective action -- not so much striking as spreading the word and joining the union to put collective pressure on YouTube and its own Google.
According to a leaked
EU internet censorship document obtained by Netzpolitik, a German blog, the European Commission (EC) is now preparing a new Digital Services Act to unify and extend internet censorship across the EU.
The proposals are partially to address eCommerce controls required to keep up with technological changes, but it also addresses more traditional censorship to control 'fake news' political ideas it does not like and 'hate speech'.
The new rules cover a wider remit of internet companies covering all digital services, and that means anything from ISPs, cloud hosting, social media, search engines, ad services, to collaborative economy services (Uber, AirBnB etc).
The censorship regime envisaged does not quite extend to a general obligation for companies to censor everything being uploaded, but it goes way beyond current censorship processes. Much of the report is about unifying the rules for takedown of
The paper takes some of the ideas from the UK Online Harms whitepaper and sees requirements to extend censorship from illegal content to legal-but-harmful content.
The authors perceive that unifying censorship rules for all EU countries as some sort of simplification for EU companies, but as always ever more rules just advantages the biggest companies, which are unfortunately for the EU, American. Eg
requiring AI filtering of content is a technology very much in the control of the richest and most advanced companies, ie the likes of Google.
Actually the EU paper does acknowledge that EU policies have in the past advantaged US companies. The paper also notes unease at the way that European censorship decisions, eg the right to be forgotten, have become something implemented by the
The German film censors of the FSK started up 70 years ago. After World War II, according to the Allies, a post was supposed to replace military censorship and thus block propaganda films with National Socialist content. Politicians wanted to
seize the opportunity and connect it with a state control authority for the protection of minors.
Although there is no legal obligation in Germany to have films examined by the FSK, according to the Youth Protection Act, cinema and video films must be provided with an age-approval mark. That is, a film that has no FSK certificate, may only be
seen or purchased by adults.
Saying that, the rules for selling 18 rated videos seem very onerous in Germany and it has led to large numbers of films being cut for the easier to retail 16 rating.
The FSK charges film distributors 1000 euro for its age rating. A movie is rated by five examiners. The odd number is important because it is decided by a simple majority. The chairman is the Permanent Representative of the Supreme State Youth
Authorities, in addition to a youth protection expert, for example, from the youth welfare office, and a public representative, for example, of churches, the Central Council of Jews or the Federal Youth. Two examiners are selected by the FSK
although they must be independent of the film industry.
Going self rated in 2020
Age ratings can be self applied for online films so an FSK rating is not required. In addition, the online streaming competition is rather diminishing the market for DVDs. And the declining DVD sales makes the censorship fees every more
So to tray and reduce costs the FSK wants to start a new test procedure next year. The distributors will fill in a questionnaire with information, such as hard violence, explicit sex scenes or similar. A computer program calculates an age rating.
Releases of 18+ years or for controversial/contested cases will still be consider by an FSK panel.
In addition to the cost savings, the FSK hopes with the new system to find a connection on the international market.
Denmark is considering the censorship of social media after an Instagram influencer's suicide note kicked off a controversy.
Instagram personality Fie Laursen posted a suicide note which received 30,000 comments and 8,000 likes. The public suicide note remained online for two days before Laursen herself took it down, having received treatment in a local hospital for an
In the aftermath, Danish Minister of Children and Education Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil has proposed that influencers and bloggers must adhere to press based rules to avoid 'harm' to the wider public. Rosenkrantz-Theil said:
All journalists are familiar with the press ethics rules that, for example, that one must be careful about talking about suicide in the public space. When managing popular blogs with hundreds of thousands of followers, I think we can make the
Rosenkrantz-Theil proposes the formation of a governmental censorship board to enforce such rules which would be granted the authority to remove material in breach of whatever guidelines were created. The politician also outlined a scenario
whereby the influencers would have to designate three people to have the password for their accounts. These people can then remove a post if they believe it violates the press ethics.
The proposed Press Board would be afforded the right to criticize and ultimately, to censor, offending posts that broke any potential ethical guidelines. The censor's remit would be limited to those influencers with more than 5,000 followers.
Google has been accused of blacklisting pro-life YouTube search entries ahead of last year's vote in Ireland on legalizing abortion. Pundits call it a deliberate manipulation and demand that the company be held accountable.
Allegations that Google's manual interference with YouTube search results may have played a role in the 2018 referendum on abortion in Ireland surfaced last week, when Project Veritas website published an insider-based article on the matter.
Blocked terms reportedly included abortion is murder, Irish Catholic, pro-life and other terms.
Google responded, saying that there was no distinction between pro-life or pro-choice queries on YouTube at the time and that their whole procedure was transparent.
This is hardly a credible response from Google, their processes are never transparent, so how can one believe the other half of the statement?
The Pirate Party political movement owes its early success to sticking up for The Pirate Bay, following a raid in Sweden. In recent years Pirates have delivered many excellent politicians and Marcel Kolaja, one of the new MEPs, has just been
elected as a Vice-President of the EU Parliament.
4 Pirate MEPS were elected at the last European Election with one from Germany and three from the Czech Republic.
During the last term, the excellent Julia Reda was at the forefront of many lawmaking discussions, particularly with regard to the new Copyright Directive. While Reda recently left Parliament, the new MEPs obviously have similar ambitions.
With 426 votes, Marcel Kolaja was elected with an absolute majority in the second voting round. He will serve as one of the fourteen Vice-Presidents tasked with replacing the President as chair of the plenary if needed, as well as a variety of
Brexit party MEPs show their disrespect of EU institutions by turning their backs on the EU anthem
German politicians have proposed that people who desecrate the European flag could be faced with a prison sentence.
German politicians, in the east German state of Saxony, are now trying to use the law to force people to respect EU symbols. Saxony state's justice minister has drafted a bill that, if passed, would mean that anyone who denigrates the EU anthem
or removes, destroys, damages, or makes useless or unrecognisable the EU flag could face up to three years' imprisonment or a hefty fine.
There is already a similar law in Germany to protect German flags and symbols and this change would extend the principle to EU equivalents
Germany has fined Facebook for failing to detail the number of complaints received in a transparency report.
The Federal Office for Justice (BfJ,) a subdivision of the German justice ministry, announced that it had issued Facebook a fine of 2 million euro for failing to meet the requirements of Berlin's Network Enforcement Act, a law against illegal
content, in its transparency report for the first half of 2018.
In the penalty charge notice, the BfJ reprimands in particular that in the released report, the number of received complaints about unlawful content is incomplete, the office said in its announcement, adding that this is creating a distorted
image in the public about the extent of unlawful content [on the platform] and the way the social network is dealing with it.