Europe flexes its muscles over illegal content online

May 14, 2018 markmulready

The EC has ramped up pressure for “swift and proactive” action to tackle illegal content, including copyright infringement. It’s even set a one-hour target for taking down the most harmful content. Could platforms soon face a legally-enforced deadline for removing pirate content?

Targeting Crime Online
The European Commission draft communication on tackling illegal content online published last September stated online platforms have a duty to take down illegal content “expeditiously” once they become aware of it. But it largely left individual companies and states to decide what counts as an “expeditious” response.

It did promise “further analysis” of the need for fixed removal timeframes. We are now seeing the first fruits of that analysis.

Sixty minutes to comply
The EC’s new follow-up Recommendation sets out “operational measures” to combat illegal content. Understandably in the current global climate, it prioritizes removal of terrorist material. It’s here the Commission’s suggested a fixed timeframe: inciteful content must be removed within one hour of it being flagged to a platform by law enforcement.

A time frame for anti-piracy?
The EC acknowledges different content types require different treatment. That’s why it hasn’t yet specified timeframes for addressing copyright infringement. But it highlights cases like live sports where “potential economic damage arising from…infringement may be closely related to the speed of its removal”. Platforms must report performance so authorities can judge whether their action in each case was “expeditious”.

Can it be long before targets for removing pirate content are put forward? A landmark Dutch court ruling has already ordered hosting provider Ecatel to stop servicing customers who offer illegal live streams. It faces fines up to €1.5m if it fails to comply within 30 minutes of a notification.

The Commission specifies mechanisms to be used for reporting illegal content to platforms. These apply to both law enforcement and “trusted flaggers”, organizations like Irdeto with specialist expertise in identifying certain illegal content.

If this helps to solidify industry-wide best practice, we hope it means platforms will act faster on future takedown notices. That must be good news for organizations that own or license content, helping them see tangible returns on their anti-piracy efforts.

Rise of the Machines
The EC recommendations also highlight the importance of automation for proactive detection of illegal content at scale. Many content owners already deploy technologies including forensic, session-based watermarking and automated web crawlers in conjunction with live enforcement services to identify, trace and shut down pirate feeds. The right technology can trigger action in as little as two minutes.

Such automation is essential for live sports content with high but fleeting value. Rights owners increasingly mandate use of these technologies to combat hundreds of pirate streams per high-profile event.

The warm up act?
The EC may just be getting started flexing its muscles on illegal content, pledging to “monitor progress” and launch a public consultation. Surely, it’s just a matter of time before Brussels recommends new laws.

Mark Mulready | VP Cybersecurity Services

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