Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Internet legal developments to look out for in 2017

A preview of some of the UK internet legal developments that we can expect in 2017. Any proposed EU legislation will be subject to Brexit considerations and so may never happen in the UK.

EU copyright reform In 2016 the European Commission published
proposals for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (widely viewed as being in the main internet-unfriendly), for a Regulation extending the country of origin provisions of the Satellite and Cable Broadcasting Directive to broadcasters' ancillary online transmissions and for a proposal to mandate a degree of online content portability within the EU. The legislative processes will continue through 2017.

EU online business As part of its Digital Single Market proposals the European Commission has published a proposal for a Regulation on "Geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination". It aims to prevent online retailers from discriminating, technically or commercially, on the basis of nationality, residence or location of a customer. 

UK criminal copyright infringement The
Digital Economy Bill is about to start its Lords Committee stage. Among other things the Bill implements the government’s decision to seek an increase in the maximum sentence for criminal copyright infringement by communication to the public from two years to ten years. The Bill also redefines the offence in a way that, although intended to exclude minor infringements, has raised concerns that it in fact expands the scope of the offence.

Pending CJEU copyright cases Several copyright references are pending in the EU Court of Justice. Issues under consideration include communication to the public and magnet links (
BREIN/Pirate Bay C-610/15 [AG Opinion delivered 8 February 2017]), links to infringing movies in an add-on media player (BREIN/Filmspeler C-527/15 [AG Opinion delivered 8 December 2016]), site blocking injunctions (BREIN/Pirate Bay), applicability of the temporary copies exception to viewing infringing movies (BREIN/Filmspeler) and cloud-based remote PVR (VCAST C-265/16).

Online pornography The
Digital Economy Bill would grant powers to a regulator (intended to be the British Board of Film Classification) to determine age control mechanisms for internet sites that make ‘R18’ pornography available; and to direct ISPs to block such sites that either do not comply with age verification or contain material that would not be granted an R18 certificate. These aspects of the Bill have been criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, by the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and by the House of Lords Constitution Committee.

Net neutrality and parental controls The net neutrality provisions of the
EU Open Internet Access and Roaming Regulation potentially affect the ability of operators to choose to provide network-based parental control filtering to their customers. A transitional period for existing self-regulatory schemes expired on 31 December 2016. The government has said that although it does not regard the Regulation as outlawing the existing UK voluntary parental controls regime, to put the matter beyond doubt it will introduce an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to put the parental controls scheme on a statutory basis. [Now Clause 91 'Internet filters'.]

TV-like regulation of the internet The review of the EU Audio Visual Media Services Directive continues. The
Commission proposal adopted on 25 May 2016 would further extend the Directive's applicability to on-demand providers and internet platforms.

Cross-border liability and jurisdiction
Ilsjan (Case C-194/16) is another CJEU reference on the Article 7(2) (ex-Art 5(3)) tort jurisdiction provisions of the EU Jurisdiction Regulation. The case concerns a claim for correction and removal of harmful comments. It asks questions around mere accessibility as a threshold for jurisdiction (as found in Pez Hejduk) and the eDate/Martinez ‘centre of interests’ criterion for recovery in respect of the entire harm suffered throughout the EU. Meanwhile significant decisions on extraterritoriality are likely to be delivered in the French Conseil d'Etat (CNIL/Google) and Canadian Supreme Court (Equustek/Google).

Online state surveillance The UK’s
Investigatory Powers Act 2016 is expected to be implemented in stages throughout 2017. The Watson/Tele2 decision of the CJEU has already cast a shadow over the data retention provisions of the Act, which will almost certainly now have to be amended. The Watson case, which directly concerns the now expired data retention provisions of DRIPA, will shortly return to the Court of Appeal for further consideration in the light of the CJEU judgment. The IP Act (in particular the bulk powers provisions) may also be indirectly affected by pending cases in the CJEU (challenges to the EU-US Privacy Shield), in the European Court of Human Rights (ten NGOs challenging the existing RIPA bulk interception regime) and by a judicial review by Privacy International of an Investigatory Powers Tribunal decision on equipment interference powers. [Judicial review application dismissed 2 February 2017; under appeal to Court of Appeal.] Finally, Liberty has announced that it is launching a direct challenge in the UK courts against the IP Act bulk powers. [New revised and simplified mindmap of legal challenges (previous version here):




 [Updated 3 March 2017 with various developments and new mindmap.]

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