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Brit regulator Ofcom put at helm as hosting platforms threatened with hefty fines for violent videos

Interim measure until Brexit, or never... whichever happens first

The UK government has threatened hosting platforms with big fines for providing access to unpleasant videos and will task UK comms regulator Ofcom with looking after how that happens.

The rules will come into force from 19 September in order to comply with European Union regulations. They will be in force until 31 October. If the UK leaves the union without a deal on that date, the rules may or may not continue to be enforced. In the longer term, the idea is to set up a new regulator to oversee such content.

The change will extend the Audio Visual Services Directive to video sharing and streaming services and not just broadcast and video on demand services. It aims to protect children from violent, pornographic or "extremist" content.

Member states can decide what punishments to impose, but the UK government seems inclined to extend Ofcom's existing powers to impose fines on broadcasters and on-demand services of £250,000 or 5 per cent of revenue to Video Sharing Platforms (VSPs).

Ofcom sent us the following statement: "These new rules are an important first step in regulating video-sharing online, and we'll work closely with the Government to implement them. We also support plans to go further and legislate for a wider set of protections, including a duty of care for online companies towards their users."

The Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport is still consulting on how the rules will work in practice and there is plenty of room for confusion. Services will either be required to apply to Ofcom for a licence, notify Ofcom or just agree to follow Ofcom's rules.

The consultation document notes possible confusion over exactly which sites and services will be defined as "Video Sharing Platforms". Ofcom called on the government to provide more clarity while also admitting that the changing nature of the market might make this difficult.

But the directive will exclude "video clips embedded in the editorial content of electronic versions of newspapers and magazines and animated images such as GIFs".

The government aims to make the industry pay for any further regulation activities.

Alastair Graham, chair of the Age Verification Providers Association and CEO of AgeChecked, said of the move: "Young people have more access to online content than ever before; in fact, our recent research found that 59 per cent of children have already started using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter before the age of 10 – despite the minimum age requirement being 13.

"Whilst the ever-growing market of technologies can be of great benefit to children, they also pose unprecedented risks. It's therefore encouraging to see appropriate measures – such as robust, integrated age verification systems – being enforced to ensure young people are better protected from potentially harmful material."

There's more on the consultation here (PDF). ®

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