Out-Law News 2 min. read

Online platforms face patchwork of new EU regulation

Online platforms will not face an overarching set of new EU regulation but will be subject to targeted initiatives aimed at addressing problems specific to individual sectors, the European Commission has announced.

The Commission said adopting a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to platforms regulation would not be "appropriate for consumers to benefit from the opportunities and for the rules to meet the different challenges posed by the very diverse types of online platforms".

However, under a new Audio-visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive that has been proposed, providers of on-demand audiovisual media services will be required to ensure that "European works" make up at least 20% of material in their catalogues. Video-sharing platforms will also be under new obligations to tackle hate speech.

Separate initiatives are also planned in other sectors, the Commission said. New copyright rules will be introduced later this year and aim to "achieve a fairer allocation of value generated by the online distribution of copyright-protected content by online platforms providing access to such content", it said.

In addition, online platforms will be encouraged to combat fake reviews as well as embrace innovative new forms of electronic identification (eID) as a means of facilitating access to services they provide.

The Commission said (15-page / 384KB PDF): "In order to empower consumers and to safeguard principles of competition, consumer protection and data protection, the Commission will further promote interoperability actions, including through issuing principles and guidance on eID interoperability at the latest by 2017. The aim will be to encourage online platforms to recognise other eID means – in particular those notified under the eIDAS Regulation – that offer the same reassurance as their own."

The Commission said that it also intends to explore measures to "facilitate switching and portability of data among different online platform and cloud computing services, both for business and private users". One option to enable this would be to establish technical standards, it said. The Commission said it also plans to "examine the potential barriers to a single EU data market that may arise from legal uncertainties regarding the ownership and usability of – or access to – data, including issues related to application programming interfaces".

Further EU-wide self-regulatory measures will also be encouraged by the Commission. It said it would "regularly review the effectiveness and comprehensiveness of such voluntary efforts with a view to determining the possible need for additional measures and to ensure that the exercise of users’ fundamental rights is not limited".

"Principles-based self-regulatory/co-regulatory measures, including industry tools for ensuring application of legal requirements and appropriate monitoring mechanisms, can play a role," the Commission said. "Underpinned by appropriate monitoring mechanisms, they can strike the right balance between predictability, flexibility, efficiency, and the need to develop future-proof solutions."

The Commission said that it also intends to "carry out a targeted fact-finding exercise" into the business-to-business practices that occur within the online platforms environment. It said it will "determine whether additional EU action is needed" by spring 2017.

The Commission also confirmed that it will seek to level the regulatory playing field in the telecoms sector through, potentially, a mix of deregulation and introduction of some "communications-specific rules" so as to ensure traditional telecoms businesses and newer over-the-top communication service providers, like Skype and WhatsApp, are subject to "the same or similar rules".

To achieve a similar result as part of the reforms to the EU's e-Privacy Directive the Commission said it will "consider simplification and adjustment of its scope and potential application of some of its rules, for example those relating to confidentiality, also to OTT online communications services".

Andrus Ansip, EU digital commissioner, said: "I want online platforms and the audiovisual and creative sectors to be powerhouses in the digital economy, not weigh them down with unnecessary rules. They need the certainty of a modern and fair legal environment... This means not changing existing rules that work, such as those related to the liability of online service providers. It also means deregulating where necessary for traditional sectors like broadcasting, or extending certain obligations to platforms and other digital players to improve user protection and to reach a level-playing field."

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