Europe wants another look at Telia’s move into broadcasting

Swedish telecoms group Telia wants to buy Bonnier Broadcasting but the European Commission reckons that might be bad for telly in Sweden and Finland.

Last summer Telia announced it was getting its cheque book out once more to buy Swedish company Bonnier Broadcasting, which runs TV channels in Sweden and Finland. At the time this seemed like a classic multiplay move, in which operators get into content in order to offer more complete communications bundles to their customers.

This sort of thing has taken place all over Europe for years, but the European Commission’s current mood seems to be hostile to such moves. “The in-depth investigation we are opening today aims to ensure that Telia’s proposed acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting will not lead to higher prices for or less choice of TV channels for consumers in Finland and Sweden,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The niggle is that Telia already licenses TV channels from broadcasters to put into bundles. “The proposed acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting by Telia Company would create a vertically integrated player in the audio-visual industry in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden,” said the EC press release.

This could mean that Telia won’t let its telco competitors license Bonnier stuff, won’t let them advertise against Bonnier stuff and could even deny access to streaming applications to customers of its competitors. Those are all reasonable concerns but surely they apply to most M&A. Furthermore you’d think anti-competitive behaviour by a telco would be a matter for national regulators.

Telia has responded by saying it figured this would happen. In a press release headlined ‘Investigation into acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting moves into phase 2 in line with expectations’, Telia indicated it had been in the loo-p with the EC’s concerns from the start and will use this phase to put its concerns to rest. It will presumably promise to be really, really nice to its competitors if the EC let it have this one tiny little acquisition.

“A phase 2 investigation into the acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting is fully in line with our expectations and we now look forward to continuing the constructive dialogue with the European Commission,” said Jonas Bengtsson, General Counsel at Telia. We’re confident that any concerns following the in-depth investigation will be resolved.”

Facebook placates Europe for now

In a bid to keep the European Commission off its back social media giant Facebook is admitting to its users that they’re the product.

Despite this being the media business model since the first newspapers were printed, the EC seems to think making Facebook spell out its business model represents some kind of progress. Those few users that even care will now be able to find some kind ‘digital media for dummies’ guide buried somewhere in their Facebook details. This is probably a product of all the faux outrage expressed when it was revealed that politicians can use Facebook for targeted advertising before elections.

This thrilling new section of Facebook will also clarify the nature of the implicit contract users enter into with Facebook when they post stuff, as well as clarify the rules for removing posts and suspending accounts. Facebook has vowed to be a bit more reasonable when it comes to unilaterally changing its Ts and Cs, and to admit its liabilities when it comes to things like Cambridge Analytica.

“Today Facebook finally shows commitment to more transparency and straight forward language in its terms of use,” said Commissioner Vera Jourová. “A company that wants to restore consumers trust after the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica scandal should not hide behind complicated, legalistic jargon on how it is making billions on people’s data. Now, users will clearly understand that their data is used by the social network to sell targeted ads. By joining forces, the consumer authorities and the European Commission, stand up for the rights of EU consumers.”

If this is all Facebook has to do to get the EC off its back then Mark Zuckerberg must be laughing himself sick right now, pausing only to sign off a massive pay rise for Nick Clegg. Companies like Google and Microsoft have probably already written to the EC, asking why they weren’t given the ‘publish some clarifications’ option before getting fined into next week. While this seems to have temporarily placated the EC, Facebook’s minimal gesture seems useless to its users.

Europe unveils its own attempt to address ethical AI

Addressing the ethical implications of artificial intelligence has become very fashionable in recent months, and right on cue, the European Commission has produced seven guidelines for ethical AI.

The guidelines themselves are not much more than a theoretical playbook for companies to build products and services around for the moment. However, any future legislation which is developed to guide the development of AI in the European Union will likely use these guidelines as the foundation blocks. It might not seem critical for the moment, but it could offer some insight into future regulation and legislation.

“The ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on,” said Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “It is only with trust that our society can fully benefit from technologies. Ethical AI is a win-win proposition that can become a competitive advantage for Europe: being a leader of human-centric AI that people can trust.”

“We now have a solid foundation based on EU values and following an extensive and constructive engagement from many stakeholders including businesses, academia and civil society,” said Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “We will now put these requirements to practice and at the same time foster an international discussion on human-centric AI.”

The seven guidelines are as follows:

  1. Human agency and oversight: AI systems should enable equitable societies by supporting human agency and fundamental rights, and not decrease, limit or misguide human autonomy.
  2. Robustness and safety: Trustworthy AI requires algorithms to be secure, reliable and robust enough to deal with errors or inconsistencies during all life cycle phases of AI systems.
  3. Privacy and data governance: Citizens should have full control over their own data, while data concerning them will not be used to harm or discriminate against them.
  4. Transparency: The traceability of AI systems should be ensured.
  5. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness: AI systems should consider the whole range of human abilities, skills and requirements, and ensure accessibility.
  6. Societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should be used to enhance positive social change and enhance sustainability and ecological responsibility.
  7. Accountability: Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure responsibility and accountability for AI systems and their outcomes.

The Commission will now launch a pilot phase with industry and academia to make sure the guidelines are realistic to implement in real-world cases. The results of this pilot will inform any measures taken by the Commission or national governments moving forward.

This is one of the first official documents produced to support the development of AI, though many parties around the world are attempting to weigh in on the debate. It is critically important for governments and regulators to take a stance, such is the profound impact AI will have on society, though private industry is attempting to make itself heard as well.

From private industry’s perspective, the mission statement is relatively simple; ensure any bureaucratic processes don’t interfere too much with the ability to make money. Google was the latest to attempt to create its own advisory board to hype the lobby game, but this was nothing short of a disaster.

Having set up the board with eight ‘independent’ experts, the plan was scrapped almost immediately after employees criticised one of the board members for not falling on the right side of the political divide. This might have been an embarrassing incident, though the advisory board was hardly going to achieve much.

Google suggested the board would meet four times a year to review the firms approach to AI. Considering AI is effectively embedded, or will be, in everything which Google does, a quarterly assessment was hardly going to provide any actionable insight. It would be simply too much to do in a short period of time. This was nothing more than a PR plug by the internet giant, obsessed with appearing to be on the side of the consumer.

AI will have a significant impact on the world and almost everyone’s livelihood. For some, jobs will be enhanced, but there will always be pain. Some will find their jobs redundant, some will find their careers extinguished. Creating ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment will be critical and Europe is leading the charge.

Vodafone not bothered by EC objections to Liberty Global deal

The European Commission has apparently notified Vodafone of some concerns it needs to be addressed before it will approve its acquisition of Liberty Global assets.

The acquisition was announced almost a year ago but such is the way of these things that the EC has only just got around to flagging up its issues with it now. The objections haven’t been published but they have been widely reported and are presumably not a million miles away from those flagged up at the end of last year.

Anyway it doesn’t seem to have thrown Vodafone out of its stride at all and it issued the following statement. “The Commission’s Statement of Objections is an expected part of the review process. We will review the Statement and continue our constructive dialogue with the Commission.

“This is a significant, pan-European transaction that will create a fully-converged national challenger in four European markets, and we remain confident that the Commission will recognise that it will deliver considerable benefits for consumers and competition. We still expect to receive final approval in the middle of this year.”

Reading between the lines this seems to be Vodafone saying “we got this”. Being given a bunch of hoops to jump through was always going to be an inevitable part of this process and it’s probably a relief to have finally received them. Vodafone will now spend a couple of months chatting to the EC to make sure all its objections are properly addressed, with its fingers crossed throughout.

Europe officially says no to US on Huawei ban… for the moment

The European Commission has unveiled its recommendations for security mechanisms for the 5G era, and Huawei lives to fight another day, at least for the next couple of months.

While this is the proportionate response many telcos have been calling for, it does not quite give the concrete position of certainty they might have been hoping for. Despite attempts from the US to bend Europe to its will, the bloc will take a risk mitigation approach, though member states have until October 1 to conclude threat landscape assessments. At this point, decisions might be taken to ban certain products, services or suppliers.

“5G technology will transform our economy and society and open massive opportunities for people and businesses,” said Andrus Ansip, Commissioner for the Digital Single Market. “But we cannot accept this happening without full security built in. It is therefore essential that 5G infrastructures in the EU are resilient and fully secure from technical or legal backdoors.”

While the US has decided to effectively ban Huawei and other Chinese companies without the burden of proof, Europe has decided to take a much more measured approach. There have been worries over Chinese espionage thanks to legislation stating companies are legally obliged to help the state with any intelligence activities, however the next couple of months will see the member states assess the landscape.

At national level, each member state should complete a national risk assessment of 5G network infrastructures by the end of June. This process should lead to each state updating security requirements and mechanisms, though some have already made a start on this work, France and Germany for example.

After this point, member states should begin exchanging information, with the support of the Commission and the European Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), will complete a coordinated risk assessment by 1 October. The member states will agree a consistent set of mitigating measures including certification requirements, tests, controls, as well as the identification of products or suppliers that are considered potentially non-secure. At this point, there might be calls to ban products, services and suppliers on a European level.

This is where the uncertainty continues. Europe has stopped short of stating it will ban any suppliers, keeping telcos in a state of nervousness, but at least there is now a timetable. 5G deployment will almost certainly be slowed over the next couple of months though at least this position is not open-ended anymore.

What is worth noting is this recommendation does not prevent or dismiss any bans which might currently be in place. As it stands, none of the member states have banned Huawei, though they will be free to do so if they feel it necessary moving forward.

How the US will react to this position remains to be seen, though it has already started to make passive aggressive threats to individual member states. Germany and the UK are two who have been told they risk access to US intelligence databases should they not ban Huawei, though the huffing and puffing self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ is largely being ignored. Talks will continue, but it seems the US influence is not comprehensive enough to force through these demands.

For the moment, this is good news for the European operators. There was a risk telcos would have to rip and replace certain components in networks, with 5G rollouts suffering as a result. Some telcos, including Three and Vodafone in the UK, have suggested 5G would be delayed by two years if Huawei was to be banned. This is the crux of the issue.

The vast majority of US networks have never made use of Huawei equipment therefore a ban would have almost zero impact on operations or 5G deployment. This is not the case in Europe, therefore our overseers have a tricky equation to balance; on one side is risk mitigation and the other is economic success in the digital era.

US set to lose Huawei propaganda game in Europe – report

The US has been investing a lot of energy and time attempting to prove the value of banning Huawei, but it seems a failed quest as the European Commission readies itself to rule out a ban.

According to Reuters, Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for Digital Single Market, will unveil new plans tomorrow (Tuesday 26). These plans will distance the Commission from the idea of an outright ban across the bloc but heighten security protocols and monitoring requirements for 5G. This is only a recommendation, but such is the political influence of the Commission, it would surprise few to see the proposals pass through to national legislation.

“It is a recommendation to enhance exchanges on the security assessment of digital critical infrastructure,” said one of the four anonymous sources.

The idea is a much more pragmatic and considered one. A ban on a single company, or companies from a single country, is far too narrow-focused and assumes threats can only emerge from that source. A broader approach to security, leaning on monitoring and heightened security requirements, allows the bloc to mitigate risk more effectively and take an impartial approach.

It is believed the Commission will suggest each country set-up mechanisms which can implement and monitor security requirements for equipment in 5G networks, while also creating accreditation processes. Products will seemingly have to be tested to mitigate as much risk as possible. These protocols and security credentials should be shared throughout the member states to create scale.

For the US, this is pretty much worse-case scenario. Its political influence and economic power has been undermined. By sending dozens of delegations across the continent in attempt to convince politicians a Huawei ban was the right way forward, it was clearly confident its lobbying credentials. Should Ansip proceed as anticipated here, the US’ belief in its own influence has clearly been over-estimated.

While the European Commission was reportedly considering a re-write of rules which would effectively ban Huawei and Chinese vendors from the 5G bonanza, this would have put the bureaucrats in conflict with the member states. The majority of European nations, and almost every European telco, has opposed the ban, citing heavy disruptions to 5G progress. Huawei is an important vendor in Europe and it seems Brussels has been listening.

The clues have been there over the last couple of months, but Europe is resisting the ambitions of the US and choosing its own path. The UK has long resisted any sniff of such a ban, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received a frosty welcome in Eastern Europe and Germany has most recently been pushing back. A smart bet would have been in favour of Huawei.

Although these are still rumours, we will wait for confirmation from the European Commission before getting too worked up, it seems a lack of evidence counted against the US lobby attempts. Suspicions over Chinese espionage will of course continue, but the importance of Huawei to European communications infrastructure cannot be undervalued. Without evidence, the US anti-China propaganda has fallen on deaf ears.

Europe fines Google another €1.5 billion after belated Android concession

US search giant Google has received yet another fine from the European Commission, this time for abusing its dominant position in online advertising.

Specifically this ruling refers to ads served against Google search results embedded in third party websites. The EC doesn’t like the way Google used to go about this and, having reviewed loads of historical contracts between Google and these other websites, found the following:

  • Starting in 2006, Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts. This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages. The decision concerns publishers whose agreements with Google required such exclusivity for all their websites.
  • As of March 2009, Google gradually began replacing the exclusivity clauses with so-called “Premium Placement” clauses. These required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and request a minimum number of Google adverts. As a result, Google’s competitors were prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages.
  • As of March 2009, Google also included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed. This meant that Google could control how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be.

EC google ad graphic

Taken at face value this would appear to be a clear abuse of Google’s dominant position and it seems to have got off pretty lightly, since it got a much bigger fine for abusing Android’s dominant position last year, on which more below. The EC has been pretty consistent in its position on dominant US tech players deliberately seeking to restrict competition, just ask Microsoft and Intel, so none of this can have come as a surprise to Google.

“Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts,” said Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager. “Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”

As the quote indicates, Google isn’t doing this anymore, but only packed it in once the EC flagged it up in 2016, so that’s still a decade of naughtiness. For some reason Google also chose today to show some belated contrition for one of the things it got fined for last year: forcing Android OEMs to preinstall Google Search and the Chrome browser.

In a blog post amusingly entitled Supporting choice and competition in Europe, Google SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker started by stressing there’s nothing he loves more than healthy, thriving markets. Having said that he went on to make it clear that its most recent move to improve competition was taken solely to get the EC off its back.

“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search,” wrote Walker. “In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.

“Now we’ll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.”

How touching. Presumably today was some kind of deadline for Google to comply or else. The matter of browser choice is highly reminiscent of Europe’s case against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The prime beneficiary of that was, you guessed it, Google, which now accounts for around two thirds of European desktop browser share (see chart), achieved through merit rather than cheating. How sad then, so see history repeating itself on mobile.

So that takes the total amount Europe has fined Google to €8.25 billion. In response to a question after her announcement (below) Vestager revealed the EC has some kind of fine ceiling of 10% of annual revenues so, since Google brought in around €120 billion last year that still leaves plenty of room for further fines if Google keeps getting funny ideas. Incidentally she also revealed that the fines get distributed to member countries, not trousered by the EC itself, which is reassuring.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share

Europe cools internet monopoly rhetoric

Almost every politician around the world is currently using Silicon Valley as a metaphoric punching bag, but the European Commission will not be drawn into the monopolies debate.

While 2020 Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has painted a target on the backs on the internet giants, Europe has once again proven it will not be drawn into making such short-sighted and shallow promises. Warren is effectively warming up for the world’s biggest popularity contest, and perhaps hasn’t considered the long-term realities of the dismantling of companies such as Facebook and Google.

Speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Austin (thank you Recode for the transcript), Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, made a very reasonable and measured statement.

“We’re dealing with private property, businesses that are built and invested in and become successful because of their innovation,” said Vestager.

“So, to break up a company, to break up private property, would be very far-reaching. And you would need to have a very strong case that it would produce better results for consumers in the marketplace than what you could do with sort of more mainstream tools.”

Vestager’s point is simple. Don’t punish a company because of its success. Don’t make rash decisions unless there is evidence the outcome will be better than the status quo. While the fence is proving to be very comfortable, it is a logical place to sit now.

Following up with the European Commission press team, Telecoms.com was told the Commission does not have an official position when it comes to breaking up the internet monopolies. Vestager’s comments are representative of the Commission, and it will evaluate each case on its own merit. Effectively, the breaking up the monopolies is a last resort, and will only be done so in extreme circumstances.

This position is supported by a recent report, put together for HM Treasury in the UK by former Chief Economist to President Obama, Professor Jason Furman. Furman suggests new rules and departments need to be created for digital society, but monopolies, when regulated and governed appropriately, can be good for the progression of products, services and the economy overall.

This will of course be an unpopular opinion, but it makes sense. Sometimes there simply isn’t the wealth to share around. Monopolies are perhaps needed to create efficiencies and economies of scale to ensure progress is made at a suitable pace. However, the right regulatory framework needs to be in place to ensure this dominant position is not abused. A catch-all position should not be welcomed.

This is where the European Commission has been playing a notable role. Numerous times over the last few years, technology giants have been punished for creating and abusing dominant market positions, take Google as an example with Android antitrust violations last June, though it has not gone as far as breaking up these empires. The key here is creating a framework which encourages growth across the board but does not punish success.

Some would argue success in the pursuit of this delicately balanced equation has been incredibly varied, but this should not form the foundation of rash decisions and potential irreversible actions. Big is not necessarily bad.

This is the marquee promise of Senator Elizabeth Warren. In attempting to woo the green-eyed contradictory wannabee capitalists of Middle America, the Presidential contender has promised to split up the internet giants. The complexities and realities of this promise do not seem to have been thoroughly thought out, and it does seem to be a shallow attempt to lure the favour of those who seek fortunes but are unable to congratulate those who have found them.

That said, there are Presidential candidates who are suggesting good ideas. Senator Amy Klobuchar has suggested companies who monetize data through relationships with third-parties should be taxed. This is somewhat of a radical idea, but we do quite like the sound of it.

Firstly, for those companies who say they are collecting data to ‘improve customer experience’, there would be no impact. If the data is being used to enhance current or create new services, and therefore kept in-house, then fair enough. However, if the company is moving data around the digital ecosystem, monetizing personal information, why not place a levy on this type of activity. It might just encourage these companies to be more responsible when more scrutiny is being placed on these transactions.

This is the challenge we are all facing nowadays; the digital economy is a different beast and needs to be tamed using different techniques, regulations and practices. We all know this, but we haven’t actually figured out how to do it.

This is why we kind of like the non-committal, hands-off approach from the European Commission. For an organization which usually likes to run wild with the red-tape, this seems to be a much more sensible approach. Over regulating nowadays could create a patch-work from hell which would only have to be undone. It might seem like a cop-out, but governments should let business be business, while casting a watchful eye over developments.

When no-one really knows how the future is going to evolve, regulation is needed to hold companies accountable and protections are needed to safeguard the consumer. But rash decisions and ridiculous promises are the last thing anyone wants.

EU set to proceed with controversial new online copyright rules

Inevitably the EU Copyright Directive, complete with its widely despised Articles 11 and 13, is continuing its glacial progress along the European rubber-stamping conveyor belt.

Last month we reported that the directive appeared to have hit a road bump, but this turned out to be a fleeting inconvenience, resolved by the most token of concessions. Yesterday both the European Commission and European Parliament announced a breakthrough in the fraught negotiations, from which a miraculous consensus was reached.

“To finally have modern copyright rules for the whole of EU is a major achievement that was long overdue,” said VP for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “The negotiations were difficult, but what counts in the end is that we have a fair and balanced result that is fit for a digital Europe: the freedoms and rights enjoyed by internet users today will be enhanced, our creators will be better remunerated for their work, and the internet economy will have clearer rules for operating and thriving.”

“This deal is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on,” said MEP Axel Voss, who seems to speak for the European Parliament on this stuff.

“At the same time, this deal contains numerous provisions which will guarantee that the internet remains a space for free expression. These provisions were not in themselves necessary because the directive will not be creating any new rights for rights holders. Yet we listened to the concerns raised and chose to doubly guarantee the freedom of expression. The ‘meme’, the ‘gif’, the ‘snippet’ are now more protected than ever before.”

As you can see both spokespeople are doing a heavy sell on the directive because they know it’s unpopular. Not that it really matters because In place of actual democratic accountability, the EU has a self-reinforcing system of largely opaque bodies. This is apparently done to create the impression of rigorous due process but it’s very rare for the real power in Brussels – the European Commission – to receive any significant internal resistance once it has decided on a course of action.

The most unpopular part of the Directive is Article 13, which requires sites to either seek licenses for, or pre-emptively block the upload of, any material that may be copyright protected, or face the consequences of any breach themselves. Close second in terms of public derision is Article 11, which will require a license to reproduce all but the shortest snippets of written content and may apply to things like link previews.

Appropriately enough none of the announcements linked directly to the test of the agreement, but once more we indebted to MEP Julia Reda, who quickly blogged on the matter. “The history of this law is a shameful one,” she wrote. “From the very beginning, the purpose of Articles 11 and 13 was never to solve clearly-defined issues in copyright law with well-assessed measures, but to serve powerful special interests, with hardly any concern for the collateral damage caused.”

The special interests she referred to are big publishers, who she reckons have lobbied the EU to protect their traditional revenue streams. This theory would appear to be supported by the fact that smaller publishers and rights holders seem far less keen on the new rules. Reda, who you can see alongside a small number of other dissenting MEPs in the video below, thinks the Directive can still be stopped if the European Parliament can be persuaded to oppose it but this seems like a forlorn hope.

Zoey Forbes, Technology, Media and Entertainment Associate at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, offers another perspective. “On the surface, the agreed text was an early Valentine’s Day present for creatives and the wider content industry,” she said. “Copyright holders will receive additional revenues from the use of their works online as well as greater protection from online copyright infringement.

“However, as with all things, the devil is in the detail and some stakeholders feel the safeguards offered to the tech industry have not only watered down the EU’s original objectives but will actually leave copyright holders worse off. Conversely, the tech industry and those advocating for freedom of expression are not appeased by these safeguards and continue to oppose the directive on an ideological level.”

The EU is positioning all this as protecting the European little guy from voracious Silicon Valley giants who profit from traffic driven by third party content. There is some merit to that position, but it doesn’t seem to have consulted many little guys, nor thought more deeply about the mechanics of the internet, which rely heavily on the viral sharing of stuff. It’s not at all clear that the stated beneficiaries of this set of rules will, in fact, benefit, but the EU supertanker isn’t about to change course over such minor concerns.

 

Europe set to impose upload filters on nearly all websites

After a brief interruption it’s business as usual for the EU Copyright Directive, with Article 13 set to go ahead and oblige websites to adopt burdensome content filters.

Last month we reported that Article 13 of the directive, which seeks to block the upload of any content that could possibly infringe copyright, was being held up by disagreement among some members of one of the many layers of eurocracy required to rubber-stamp new trans-continental laws.

Well as is so often the case in Brussels, a token compromise was reached that allowed everyone to do what they’re told while offering what minimal face-saving they needed to salve their capitulation. Once more the best information and analysis on this latest development comes from Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda.

Reda reports that everyone was pretty much in favour of insisting on the use of algorithmic upload filters intended to prevent copyrighted material even being uploaded in the first place without a license fee first being paid. The only sticking point concerned exemptions for smaller websites, to stop innovation being suffocated by the cost of all this fresh red tape.

The solution that apparently placated even the most fervent SMB champion was to spare websites this extra hassle so long as they’ve been going for less than three years, have an annual turnover of less than €10 million and have fewer than five million monthly unique visitors. To be clear if any single one of these apply then it’s upload filter time, so since nearly all websites are older than three that means pretty much all of them. Nice exemption.

As Reda concludes, this is EU corporatism being imposed on the internet by favouring the largest websites, for whom the additional bureaucratic burden is much less significant, and thus discouraging innovation. It will probably result in blanket blocks on European users by non-European sites that don’t feel like installing upload filters.

She calls on people to pressure their local candidates in the forthcoming European elections to oppose this move but we fear she’s being naïve. The European Union considers the democratic will of its constituents to be at best irrelevant and at worst antagonistic to its corporate interests and prospective members of European parliament know it.