The dissemination of illegal content online damages citizens’ confidence in the Internet and could pose security threats. Although progress has been made in Europe as regards citizens’ protection online, platforms need to double their efforts to remove illegal content from the Internet more swiftly and effectively. Voluntary measures taken by the sector, as encouraged by the Commission, have already paid off: the EU Internet Forum to eliminate terrorist content from the Internet; the Code of Conduct on countering illegal online hate speech; and the Memoranda of Understanding on the sale of counterfeit goods. Nevertheless, there is still room for more effective action.

Background:

In its Communication of September 2017 on tackling illegal content online, the European Commission promised to monitor progress and assess whether additional measures were needed in order to ensure the swift and proactive detection and removal of illegal content online, including possible legislative measures to complement the existing regulatory framework.

Development: The Commission Recommendation of 1 March 2018

Before determining whether it will be necessary to take legislative action, the Commission has just published its Recommendation of 1 March 2018 on measures  to effectively tackle illegal content online. It consists of a set of operational measures, accompanied by the necessary safeguards, to be taken by companies and Member States. The recommended measures apply to all forms of illegal content, i.e., terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement.

Basically, procedures have been reinforced in order to more effectively remove illegal content by means of the following operational measures:

  1. Clearer “notice and action” procedures. Companies must establish simple, transparent rules for reporting illegal content, including fast-track procedures for “trusted flaggers”. In order to prevent lawful content from accidentally being removed, content providers will be notified of removal decisions and will be able to challenge decisions.
  2. More effective tools and proactive technology. Companies will have to design clear notification systems for users. They will need to have proactive tools to detect and take down illegal content, particularly in the case of terrorist content and content that requires no assessment of the relevant context in order for it to be deemed illegal, such as child sexual abuse material or counterfeit goods.
  3. More solid safeguards to guarantee fundamental rights. In order to ensure that there are solid grounds for removing content, companies must put in place effective and appropriate safeguards, including a human review step, at all times respecting fundamental rights, freedom of expression and data protection laws.
  4. Paying special attention to small businesses. The sector must, by means of voluntary agreements, cooperate and share experiences, best practices and technological solutions, particularly regarding automated detection tools. This shared responsibility will be particularly beneficial to small platforms, which have fewer resources and less technical know-how.
  5. Closer cooperation with the authorities. Where there is evidence which points to a serious offence or suspicions that there is illegal content which poses a threat to human life or security, companies must immediately notify the Security Forces. The Member States are invited to establish the pertinent legal obligations.

Next Steps:

The Commission will follow up on the measures that are adopted in compliance with this Recommendation, determining whether supplementary measures, including legislative action, are required.

In close cooperation with the interested parties, the Commission will continue its analysis with the launch of a public consultation (feedback period ends on 30 March 2018). It will also ask the Member States and companies to provide the pertinent information on terrorist content (within a period of 3 months) and on other illegal content (within 6 months).

We will therefore have to be prepared to cooperate with the Commission in relation to illegal content in the field of copyright and industrial property.

Author: Juan J. Caselles

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