Europe unites to keep online video unregulated

Online video will not be subject to European online content laws as long as it doesn't have the 'look and feel' of a traditional broadcast

UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom has claimed a victory in an important vote over upcoming European laws that seek to regulate online video content.

The vote by European Council ministers on Monday concerned amendments to the Television Without Frontiers directive (TVWF). Ofcom said that the vote, which effectively decided that countries would not have to regulate all online broadcasting, was a "very, very important moment in the debate".

The existing TVWF regulations cover traditional broadcasters, and set minimum standards for advertising and the protection of minors. The European Commission wanted to extend them to cover online audio-visual content, including new media broadcasting and emerging platforms.

Ofcom says it has successfully argued that video downloads should not be regulated by EU regulators, but that industry and the public should self regulate. It believed the vagueness of the original proposals would have forced it to regulate all visual media, from television companies to many thousands of individual video blogs. The regulations have instead been extended to cover on-demand content that "looks and feels like a traditional TV service", said Ofcom on Tuesday.

"Ofcom had several concerns about the practicality and indeed the desirability of the proposals," explained an Ofcom spokesman. "Ofcom was concerned about a lack of clarity in terms of which kind of companies would now be covered by the regulation. However, we are pleased we have been able to work with the Commission and other member states to tighten those proposals."

While the regulator said it recognised that under-regulation could expose children and the vulnerable to inappropriate content, it was concerned that over-regulation would stifle competition. It called for a flexible approach to regulation, including self-regulation by media providers, and consumer regulation through parental control.

The Commission also welcomed the outcome of the vote, but was more cautious about the eventual shape of the directive as it still needs to have a first reading, and be ratified.

"The European Commission welcomes the fact that the three European Union institutions — the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, are on the way towards convergence on the directive on convergence," said a spokesman for the Information Media and Society directorate.

"All of the pillars of the Commission proposal have been essentially confirmed by the ministers and by the European Parliament. The Commission is confident that the new directive will pave the way for a more competitive and richer audio-visual media world and a more competitive European media industry," the spokesman told ZDNet UK.

The Commission was particularly confident about the "positive outcome on enhanced flexibility on advertising", and claimed strong support for the country of origin principle that will allow audio-visual media service providers in the European Union to operate under one jurisdiction, the spokesman added.

"We're confident that the European Parliament in its final vote in December will pave the way for a good final text that will be adopted under the German presidency [of the European Union] in the first half of 2007," he added.

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