Italian broadcasting regulators have formally classed video sharing sites such as YouTube as being broadcast stations. It could have significant repercussions in the areas of privacy, libel and copyright.
The move comes as part of a wider plan by Italian communications regulator AGCOM to bring online TV and radio stations under the same rules as traditional broadcasters. The regulator has just published the full text of a regulation passed in November which had originally been thought to only cover sites that create their own video.
However, the details show that the classification applies to any site that both “exploits” user-generated material and carries out some form of editorial control. An AGCOM adviser has confirmed this applies even if the editorial element simply consists of arranging the order in which clips are displayed. (There are exemptions for sites making less than 100,000 euros a year from the content, or showing less than 24 hours of video a week.)
The most immediate effect will be that the sites are now under the same obligations as traditional broadcasters to issue a correction with 48 hours after showing defamatory material.
There are also likely to be more cases such as last year’s trial involving senior Google executives being convicted of privacy violations after a YouTube user uploaded a clip of a child being bullied. That led to debate about whether the company should be forced to pre-vet all clips before they go live — a policy YouTube says would be impractical and financially unviable.
It’s also conceivable the sites could now come under the same rules as broadcasters, which restrict the broadcast of material unsuitable for children at some times of the day.
But perhaps the most serious risk to YouTube now comes from a lawsuit filed by broadcaster Mediaset (owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) over alleged use of copyrighted material in clips. The AGCOM ruling may make it much harder for Google to argue that it’s responsibility for such material making it onto the site is limited.