Amateur 'video bloggers' under threat from EU broadcast rules

Times Online | October 17, 2006
By Adam Sherwin

THE Government is seeking to prevent an EU directive that could extend broadcasting regulations to the internet, hitting popular video-sharing websites such as YouTube.

The European Commission proposal would require websites and mobile phone services that feature video images to conform to standards laid down in Brussels.

Ministers fear that the directive would hit not only successful sites such as YouTube but also amateur “video bloggers” who post material on their own sites. Personal websites would have to be licensed as a “television-like service”.

Viviane Reding, the Media Commissioner, argues that the purpose is simply to set minimum standards on areas such as advertising, hate speech and the protection of children.

But Shaun Woodward, the Broadcasting Minister, described the draft proposal as catastrophic. He said: “Supposing you set up a website for your amateur rugby club, uploaded some images and added a link advertising your local sports shop. You would then be a supplier of moving images and need to be licensed and comply with the regulations.”

The draft rules, known as the Television Without Frontiers directive, extend the definition of broadcasting to cover services such as video-on-demand or mobile phone clips.

Ministers argue that while television programmes should be subject to minimum standards, the content of websites should not be subject to EU regulation.

Mr Woodward is proposing a compromise that requires EU states to agree a new definition of what constitutes “television”. He said: “It’s common sense. If it looks like a TV programme and sounds like one then it probably is. A programme transmitted by a broadcaster over the net could be covered by extending existing legislation. But video clips uploaded by someone is not television. YouTube and MySpace should not be regulated.”

British criminal law already covers material that might incite hate or cause harm to children, Mr Woodward added. The Government’s definition of online broadcasting covers feature films, sports events, situation comedy, documentary, children’s programmes and original drama. It excludes personal websites and sites where people upload and exchange video images.

“The real risk is we drive out the next MySpace because of the cost of complying with unnecessary regulations,” Mr Woodward said. “These businesses can easily operate outside the EU.”

Ofcom, the media regulator, is also opposing the proposed directive, which it believes could discourage new multimedia business in Europe.

Mr Woodward is seeking EU member state support for the British compromise. So far only Slovakia has pledged support, but Mr Woodward believes that other nations will come onboard before a key EU Council meeting on November 13.

The influence of “user-generated” websites was demonstrated last week when Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion (£883 million). Launched in February 2005, it has grown into one of the most popular websites. YouTube has 100 million videos viewed every day.

The House of Lords European Union Committee began an inquiry yesterday into the directive, which could also introduce paid-for product placement on UK television for the first time.

Lord Woolmer, the committee chairman, said: “The proposals bring within the regulatory framework areas of the media previously untouched by broadcasting legislation.

“Britain is at the cutting edge of new media and alternative broadcasters in Europe, and we are keen to ensure that the proposals will not damage this growing industry in seeking to incorporate them into EU regulation.”