Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

Opening up the E-commerce directive on content liability hangs like the sword of Damocles over the European Commission.  But is the situation changed by bringing in a new legal instrument?

 A leaked draft of the proposed new Notice and Action directive  reveals that the European Commission  has  ruled out the option of opening up the E-commerce directive and instead has chosen to draft this  new, specific legislative instrument to address  the problem of Internet copyright infringement. Reading between the lines, it would seem that the Commission  is gripped by  fear of a  reprise of ACTA, with high-pressure copyright industry lobbying and countervailing citizen protests.  According to the draft directive, seen by Iptegrity, the proposed EU Notice and Action directive aims to address copyright enforcement by

establishing a process to get content taken down from websites, social media, blogs and forums. But rather than  overtly target copyright enforcement,  it seeks instead  to  establish a generic  process for web hosting  companies that are covered under the existing E-commerce directive, Article 14. The proposed directive  aims is  to deal with any content that has been subject to challenge on grounds of its legality.  That could  include   copyrighted videos and music, but it could also be   content that is alleged to be defamatory or infringing privacy or that offends against anti-racism or anti-terorism laws. 

The directive would enable people to send a notice to the hosting company requesting removal of the content, and the hosting company would bound to apply a formal, legally recognised process  for contacting the content uploader and taking it down. The directive would apply  horizontally across all types of content. Rather than being specific to, for example, copyright or defamation law, it would apply across that law applicable to both. .

The reference to Article 14 of the E-commerce directive  clarifies that the Commission’s intention is  to address  the removal of content  uploaded onto hosting platforms and not blocking content by network providers. That is actually a helpful limitation of the scope of the proposed directive, and in that context, it is less problematic than it might have been.

However,  it is not clear why the Commission does not stick to the traditional language of ‘notice and takedown’.   The  use of the word ‘action’ was intended to incorporate measures  such as blocking payment services or filtering, that do not appear, from what I can see, to be part of this directive.

From what I understand, there has been more than one draft in circulation. The draft seen by Iptegrity includes a transparency provision for hosting companies, and  another provision for a  counter-notice. In  other words, the person who received a notice claiming that their content was to be taken down, would have the right to challenge that notice.  There are two positive provisions intended to protect the rights of  all parties involved.

However, the proposed Notice and Action directive is problematic in that uses the general term ‘alleged illegal content’ as a catch-all for a a broad range of vastly different content issues. It lumps together copyright and defamation, with  viruses and malware, unfair  commercial  practices, sale of pharmaceuticals, and child abuse.  It makes no distinction between  civil infringements and criminal activity, or commercial anti-competitive practices.

One is faced with the ludicrous prospect of a virus-writer being informed of a notice to take down his malicious code.  One could also foresee quite a few anti-competitive actions demanded under the pretext of  ‘unfair commercial practices’ or indeed pharmaceutical sales, where one only has to think about the possibilities for Big Pharma to have a go at the herbal medicine suppliers.

 Moreover, the Notice and Action directive states ‘data protection’ infringements, when I think it ought to mean privacy infringements. For example,  photographs such as those of the Duchess of Cambridge (the former Kate Middleton) in a private moment with her husband, engage  the right to privacy and not  data protection.

Of course, it goes without saying that it is problematic to include action against child abuse images  under criminal law in the same breath as civil actions such as copyright infringement or defamation.

The proposed directive lacks constraints or penalties for those who mis-use  the notice procedure, and hence risks leaving  the door wide open to private policing and anti-competitive business  practices.

 It would seem that the Commission has taken this approach in order to justify a new instrument, and not opening up the E-commerce directive.  The problem for the Commission is that whichever legal route it chooses, it will look up and see  the sword of Damocles dangling on the string.

 See also my previous article on the proposed Notice and Action directive: EU notice & action directive: its on the way

For the story of ACTA and the European Commission, see my forthcoming book A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms

This is an original article from and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013,  Notice and action: the EU Commission’s Damocles moment  11July  2013. Commercial users - please contact me.

Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

Contact  me to use  iptegrity content for commercial purposes


States v the 'Net? 

Read The Closing of the Net, by me, Monica Horten.

"original and valuable"  Times higher Education

" essential read for anyone interested in understanding the forces at play behind the web."

Find out more about the book here  The Closing of the Net


FROM £15.99

Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

The politics of copyright

A Copyright Masquerade - How corporate lobbying threatens online freedoms

'timely and provocative' Entertainment Law Review


Don't miss Iptegrity!  RSS/ Bookmark