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Final text agreed for EU Digital Services Act

By | Published on Monday 25 April 2022

European Union

European Union negotiators have reached a provisional agreement on the final text for the all new Digital Services Act, which, they say, will “set the standards for a safer and more open digital space for users and a level playing field for companies for years to come”.

The DSA seeks to clarify and increase the responsibilities of digital platforms across Europe when it comes to dealing with so called harmful content and other online safety issues. It sits alongside the Digital Markets Act, which seeks to ensure the biggest digital platforms don’t exploit their market dominance.

Needless to say, there was lots of ferocious lobbying as the DSA and DMA were debated and amended in the European Parliament and EU Council after the European Commission published its initial drafts of both pieces of legislation in December 2020.

In terms of the DSA, those who want digital companies to do more to combat abusive, misleading and outright unlawful content and practices on their platforms generally felt the proposals didn’t go far enough. Meanwhile, free speech and digital rights campaigners said the proposals would negatively impact on freedom of expression and data security on the internet.

But law-makers insist they’ve got the balance right in the final draft. Platforms will be forced to remove illegal content faster and more transparently, and to implement stronger checks on companies trading via their services, plus there will be more accountability around algorithms.

Meanwhile, at the same time, “safeguards” will ensure complaints about allegedly harmful content will be “processed in a non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory manner and with respect for fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and data protection”.

On the final agreed text, MEP Christel Schaldemose says: “The Digital Services Act will set new global standards. Citizens will have better control over how their data are used by online platforms and big tech-companies. We have finally made sure that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. For the European Parliament, additional obligations on algorithmic transparency and disinformation are important achievements”.

“These new rules”, she adds, “also guarantee more choice for users and new obligations for platforms on targeted ads, including bans to target minors and restricting data harvesting for profiling”.

Neither the DSA nor the DMA are overtly focused on copyright matters, but both still have relevance to the music rights industry in one way or another. In terms of the DSA, a key objective was increasing the obligations of internet companies to ensure their business customers are legit and identifiable – aka the ‘know their business customer’ obligation – so to make it easier for copyright owners to go after any online operations that infringe their rights.

The DSA also had relevance to the ongoing campaign within the live music community around regulating secondary ticketing, with those campaigners also wanting increased obligations relating to platforms ensuring that their business customers are legit and identifiable.

All of which means the music industry’s lobbyists – like those across the tech sector and beyond – will be scrutinising the final agreed text. From the official statements made so far, it seems likely the ‘know your business customer’ obligations in the final version of the DSA could help in terms of ticket touting, but probably won’t go as far as was hoped to help copyright owners.

Sam Shemtob from pan-European anti-touting campaign FEAT said this morning: “We cautiously welcome news of measures to be placed on secondary ticketing marketplaces to clean up the Wild West in which they have operated so far. The devil will be in the detail, but we hope the new requirements for vetting traders and publishing basic information about the seller will enable fans and event organisers to make informed decisions”.

The agreed text still needs to be finalised at a technical level, and will then be verified by lawyer-linguists, before both the Parliament and Council give their final formal approval. Once that is done, the new rules will come into force across the EU 20 days after publication.

But, of course, none of that directly effects the UK, where the separate Online Safety Bill has similar objectives and is currently being scrutinised in the UK Parliament.