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Regulation of web video watered down in Europe

The EU's Council of Ministers has proposed a watering-down of multimedia services regulation after opposition from the UK Government. The UK won the major concession on the regulation of internet video.16 Nov 2006

In proposed changes to its TV Without Frontiers Directive, Europe had proposed that national Governments regulate all internet video content.* After representations from the UK, Europe's culture ministers have agreed to amend that to cover TV-like services.

The Council of Ministers has published its statement of 'general approach' to a proposed revision of the TVWF Directive, which now recommends to the EU Assembly that governments take over regulation of content broadcast online in TV-like services.

UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell argued against the proposals to regulate all video content because it would stifle creativity and investment in the sector.

Creative industries minister Shaun Woodward also lobbied for the changes to the proposal. "The outcome is testament to the substantial progress we have made in persuading our European partners to take our arguments on board," said Woodward. "The extension has been limited to on-demand television-like services, and we have enshrined further liberalisation of advertising rules."

The proposals mirror some from the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which is carrying out an internal debate on the regulation of the internet. Though the web is covered by existing laws governing offensive or libellous material or incitement to commit hate crimes, both WIPO and the TVWF Directive are seeking to put the internet under regulatory control.

Ofcom was believed to be keen not to have the regulation extended beyond TV-like video services because it would then be in the position of having to monitor, assess and punish the video postings of potentially millions of individuals.

The explosive growth of user-generated content on sites such as YouTube would make this not only a huge task but one very different to that which it carries out with existing, professional broadcasters.

* Editor's note: A reader from Latvia rightly noted that the Directive's intention was to cover only economic activity, not all internet video content. So purely private websites would be excluded.