News themed website the UK Column, who broadcast an informal current affairs and conspiracy show online, claim to have just become the first people in Britain to be targeted by regulators for their Youtube content. They claim the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) wants them to pay a fee, and fall in line with OFCOM – the strict regulator of traditional TV and radio in the UK.
While they hash things out, they’ve temporarily removed their show from Youtube and the UKColumn.org website.
The rise of social media and the accessibility of technology has given the average Joe an outlet to share their voice, in a way that was once only reserved for giant media corporations. Terms like “citizen journalist” are now commonplace, and everybody and their mother has a podcast or Youtube show.
The idea that the government would want some form of control over this new medium is obvious and not a new revelation, but those of us who sit in front of our webcams and share our opinions on the net would probably still be shocked if a government agency suggested we needed to meet content guidelines and pay some kind of license. It’s the internet! We can do what we want.
What The Law Says
Like a lot of British legislation the ATVOD wording is so ambiguous that the net is cast very wide.
The principal purpose of the service is the provision of programmes, and the form and content of such programmes are comparable to those normally included in television programme services.
The programmes are offered by the service “on-demand”. That is, they may be selected by a user, and viewed at a time chosen by the user.
The programmes are received by the user through an electronic communications network (including terrestrial broadcast, satellite broadcast, cable network or via Internet Protocol).
There is a person who exercises editorial responsibility in selecting and organising the programmes, and that person makes the service available for use by the public generally, and that person is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
In other words if you’re based in the UK and provide a show over the internet that is comparable to what is seen on regular TV, and your users can watch the show when they like, you could be subject to government oversight.
WTF! When did this happen?
In practise there are a few key points that will give some of us a sigh of relief. The VOD content has to be based in the UK to fall under the legislation. That means content on Youtube itself is safe since it is a US based corporation. You will notice that the UKColumn’s videos have not been removed or blocked, they just set them to private themselves. If anyone would have to deal with ATVOD it would be Youtube, since they are the provider of the service.
OFCOM have ruled multiple times that Youtube content does not fall under ATVOD’s remit, including a high profile case involving the BBC’s channels.
Furthermore the action seems to stem from the fact that the UK Column domain name is registered to a UK citizen, and there web servers are based in London. All they would have to do is switch to a US host (which any geek knows is cheaper anyway) and they’d be fine. Or alternatively only host their videos on third party sites like Youtube and Dailymotion etc, instead of their own UK based server.
Judging from a new video on their Youtube channel the UK Column is in a very early stage of the process where ATVOD are simply trying to ascertain who they are and what their service entails. Naturally the conspiracy/victim mindset of those behind the show has led them to martyr themselves rather than simply explain that they do a modest online video show like millions of other people, and are not a company making significant profit nor charging for the service.
The only people targeted so far under the legislation have been large adult sites like Playboy TV, because they didn’t restrict under age users paying for pornography, and Sainsbury’s Entertainment who were streaming movies as a business.
While it’s possible the UK Column have been approached in some way by ATVOD, it’s most likely wishful thinking on their part that their small news show is being censored for “broadcasting the truth”. At this time they are the ones that have shut down their own show of their own accord.
Nonetheless we’ll watch and see how things develop.