Ofcom (UK): A guide to the new requirements on VSPs

posted on 03 November, 2020   (public)

Ofcom’s approach: providing guidance and engaging with video-sharing platforms

The UK Government has transposed the legal framework of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive related to the video-sharing platforms (VSPs) further into Part 4B of the Communications Act 2003.

From 1 November 2020, UK-established VSPs are required to set up appropriate measures to protect users against potential harmful content, to comply with standards around advertising and provide for an impartial out-of-court procedure for the resolution of disputes with users. This new legal framework will remain in place until the adoption of the upcoming new Online Harm regime.

(Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash)

On 21 October 2020, UK converged regulator Ofcom released a short guide with the aim to assist stakeholders to understand the newly applicable obligations and its approach to carrying out its new duties.

The new obligations:
  • Protecting minors from content which might impair their physical, mental or moral development.
  • Protecting all users from content inciting violence or hatred, and content constituting criminal offences relating to terrorism; child sexual exploitation and abuse; and racism and xenophobia.
  • Ensuring adverts on VSPs comply with specific advertising requirements around transparency, prohibited or restricted material.
  • Providing for an impartial out-of-court procedure for disputes with the users (separate to the reporting mechanism).

Which VSPs are concerned?

  • Any service provider whose principal purpose or one of its essential functionality is to provide videos for members of the public by electronic communications networks, on a commercial basis and with a general control of the provider limited to the manner in which videos are organised on the service.
  • Only providers established in the UK under the e-Commerce Directive.

What is an 'appropriate measure'?

VSPs are required to take appropriate measures against harmful content (such as clear terms and conditions); adapted functionalities (such as reporting or flagging mechanisms or age rating systems); a transparent, easy to use and effective complaint procedure and media literacy information or tools.

To assess the risk and the appropriateness of the measures, Ofcom encourages VSPs to:

  • Look at the types and characteristics of their users and their potential to experience harm from hosted content;
  • Review the user experience, including the effectiveness of age-gating measures;
  • Review the nature of content previously flagged or removed due to being harmful, in order to improve identification processes;
  • Assess the amount and type of content flagged or removed, in order to assess trends.

Ofcom’s approach:

Ofcom intends, as a first step, to help VSPs understand the new legal framework and to keep formal enforcement action for the most serious potential breaches until the publication of further detailed guidance next year. The Ofcom’s full guidance will be based on previous consultation with VSPs and will provide examples of harmful content and good practices.
Ofcom, reminding that no general obligation to monitor is imposed on VSPs (further to the e-commerce Directive), calls on the providers to first, consider whether they are under the scope of the rules, then, to prioritise compliance measures likely to be most effective and finally, to regularly review the effectiveness of the measures undertaken.
  • From 6 April 2021, existing VSP providers are required to notify Ofcom of their services.
  • VSP providers will be expected to pay a regulatory fee each financial year from April 2022.
  • Consultation on guidance will be launched on the issue of scope (at the end of 2020), on the question of harms and appropriate measures (early 2021) and on advertising (early 2021).

At the end of the Brexit transition period, the new VSP legal framework will continue to apply until the Online Harms regime comes into force.

Source: Ofcom website