Monday, July 16, 2007
European content regulation and the Audiovisual Media Services Directive
The European Union recently agreed on new rules for broadcasting and on-demand content. The catchily termed "Audiovisual Media Services Directive" – formerly known as the "Television Without Frontiers" Directive – will update regulations on broadcasting across Europe and introduce a new framework for content viewed on other platforms, like the internet or mobile phones.
This new set of rules will distinguish between two types of content: television ("linear") and television-like on-demand content ("non-linear"). Anything which looks or feels like the traditional programmes that you'd watch on your TV falls into the first category, and user-generated content, such as on YouTube and Google Video, may fall into the second category.
Online vs. Broadcast Content
When discussions on the directive began there was little distinction between the two types of content, meaning that YouTube and Google Video would have had to comply with a complex set of rules designed to control traditional broadcasting. Thankfully, this was changed in the final draft of the legislation, which must still be voted on by the European Parliament. We believe that on-demand content shouldn't be regulated in the same way as traditional broadcasting because the two are quite different. People control the online content they demand, compared to the content which is broadcast on television.
The directive explicitly states that it will not apply to search engines. We hope that it will not apply to the content created by users themselves – although the language is less clear on this point.
The directive contains important measures to protect users, particularly children, from harmful and illegal content. There are also new rules to make sure that on-demand content doesn't feature material inciting hatred based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, nationality, disability, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation. Google supports these rules, which reflect the rules we already have in place through our user agreements.
We have talked to politicians and decision makers about the importance of empowering people to use the net and other platforms safely, and to make informed decisions through the use of filtering and labeling systems. For example, there is a passionate debate at the moment regarding clips from award-winning films on the YouTube "EUTube" channel promoting European "cinematic heritage." We think there are better ways to safeguard users than introducing unnecessary regulation.
The new directive also includes an important reference to the "country of origin principle," which simply means that content will continue to be regulated by the rules of the country from which it originates. Each country within the European Union will have broadly similar rules but there may be subtle differences. Anyone supplying content to users would only have to worry about one set of rules, rather than differing laws across the EU's Member States.
We expect the European Parliament will vote on the proposed directive in the autumn. After the Parliament has made its final decision, the EU member states will have two years to implement the directive into their own national law.
We will be following this process closely. If we need to, we will step up our advocacy efforts to make sure that politicians and regulators don't impose unnecessary regulations which would stifle the fantastic growth of user-generated content.