Building Trust from Friend MTS

A series of white papers about platform responsibility and online harms

Platform responsibility and online harms have become big talking points among policy makers and the political community in recent years.

While the debates continue, it’s clear that the regulation of online platforms is going to increase in the years ahead, and that the corporate reputation of digital companies is going to increasingly depend on well-thought out and communicated policies in this domain.

It’s important that platforms, rights-holders and responsibility facilitators are all well informed to ensure and enable productive discussions around these topics. But understanding many of these issues means navigating often complex areas of law and contentious social debates.

To help inform and educate all the stakeholders, Friend MTS – a company dedicated to innovation in content and platform security – has teamed up with CMU Insights to present Building Trust, a series of white papers exploring the economic and social responsibilities of digital platforms and other online service providers.


Building Trust #01: Safe Harbour
The copyright safe harbour is a legal principle found in many countries that limits the liabilities of internet companies whose customers use their networks or servers to distribute other people’s copyright-protected content without permission.

Those companies can usually avoid liability for copyright infringement on their networks providing they fulfil certain obligations. They must have a system in place via which rights-holders can request that any infringing content be removed. And they must develop and enforce effective policies for dealing with repeat infringers among their user-base.

First conceived in the late 1990s as internet usage started to go mainstream, this principle has proven controversial in various ways over the subsequent two decades. And in more recent years reforms have been proposed to refine the safe harbour, usually by increasing the obligations of those companies and platforms that claim safe harbour protection.

Four key debates include…
• Whether the takedown systems operated by safe harbour dwelling platforms should be more sophisticated.
• Whether the repeat infringer policies of safe harbour dwelling platforms are being properly enforced.
• Whether user-upload platforms should qualify for safe harbour protection at all.
• Whether takedown systems properly take into account copyright exceptions and fair use.

Those debates have taken place in various forums and jurisdictions, but in particular…
• During the negotiation and current implementation of the 2019 European Union Copyright Directive.
• As part of new debates around platform responsibility in the EU and United Kingdom.
• When the US Copyright Office undertook a formal review of the safe harbour between 2016 and 2020.
• Via new proposals for safe harbour reform being presented in US Congress via the Digital Copyright Act.

As a result of these debates, the copyright safe harbour is already changing in the EU, with the obligation of user-upload platforms in particular set to increase. Meanwhile similar and additional reforms could follow in the years ahead in the UK, US and elsewhere.

To help platforms, rights-holders and responsibility facilitators stay on top of all of these debates, this first white paper in the ‘Building Trust’ series provides a concise guide to some copyright law basics and the safe harbour itself, before reviewing and explaining the ongoing discussions and reforms.

Building Trust #02: Harmful Content
The obligations of internet companies and digital platforms in relation to so called “harmful content” or “online harms” have become a big talking point within the wider media and political community in recent years – with headline-grabbing incidents on social media and other platforms regularly putting the spotlight back on this debate.

Although a key challenge within that debate is defining what is even meant by harmful content. After all, the term can be applied to an assortment of different content types, including…

• Content that some people find offensive.
• Content that it is actually illegal to create and/or distribute.
• Content that is abusive towards individuals or small groups of people.
• Content that sets out to misinform and mislead.

The legal responsibilities of internet companies and digital platforms in this domain vary from country to country, although their liabilities are usually limited to some extent, especially when compared to more traditional media.

However, lawmakers in multiple jurisdictions are now considering new rules to increase those legal responsibilities, sparking much debate as to how that can be done without negatively impacting on privacy and free speech. This includes…

• The Online Safety Bill currently working its way through the UK Parliament.
• The Digital Services Act that is currently being considered in the European Union.
• The various debates in US around the future of Section 230.

Beyond any actual legal responsibilities, it’s becoming ever more important that internet companies and digital platforms do more to tackle harmful content – and are seen to be doing more to tackle harmful content – in order to protect their corporate reputations, and to ensure that advertisers don’t become nervous about the kinds of user-generated content their promotions and commercials might appear alongside.

To that end many companies and platforms already have harmful content policies that go beyond their legal obligations. Although, many critics argue that those policies nevertheless do not go far enough. While others claim the employment of such policies is inconsistent or is threatening freedom of speech.

To help platforms, rights-holders, advertisers and responsibility facilitators stay on top of all of these various debates, this second white paper in the ‘Building Trust’ series sets out to define the different kinds of harmful content; reviews the legal debates in the UK, EU and US; and considers the commercial pressures that also shape the approach internet companies and digital platforms choose to take.