Introduction

The draft ePrivacy Regulation has been trundling through the EU legislative bodies for the past couple of years, and is making some progress. On 4 October 2019 the European Council issued a revised draft of the Regulation, which is still subject to change.

The Regulation was initially due to come into force at the same time as the GDPR, and is intended to complement the GDPR and relate to electronic communications specifically. However inconsistencies with the GDPR and unanswered questions around parts of the draft have created uncertainty.

We consider some of the key differences between the revised draft and the current legislation below.
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On 26 March 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU Copyright Directive.

What happens next?

Member states will have two years to implement the directive at a national level once adopted.

The news will not please the large online content aggregators which have been extensively lobbying against the implementation of the Copyright Directive. The controversial Article 17 (the so-called “Meme Ban”) has been one of the main reasons for the aggregators’ objections because it is argued that Article 13 encourages censorship and impedes internet freedom.

For an overview of the also controversial so called ‘Link Tax’ (Article 15) see our prior blog post.


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On 26 March 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU Copyright Directive.

Article 15 (originally 11) of the revised EU Copyright directive prohibits online content providers from linking to news outlets/publications without the prior authority of the publisher – the so called “Link Tax”. This means that for an online content provider to be able to link to a news article on their site, it will need a licence from the publisher. It may also need to pay for the right to use the article (unless the publisher waives this right).

What is the aim behind Article 15?

Article 15 improves the bargaining position for publishers. Currently, online content providers are permitted to freely link to news articles on their websites without the publisher’s prior consent and without providing remuneration to the publisher for use of its publication. Article 15 seeks to level the playing field between publishers and online content providers. Publishers will become entitled to negotiate fair licensing agreements and remuneration for use of their works online.


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On 14 September 2017 Ofcom, the UK communications industry regulator, adopted new statutory guidelines (Penalty Guidelines) on how it would assess and determine the penalties (fines) payable by regulated communications companies who breach their obligations under the Communications Act 2003 (Act). The revised guidelines follow Ofcom’s June 2017 adoption of new guidelines for enforcement in regulatory investigations (Enforcement Guidelines) and procedures for investigating breaches of competition related conditions in Broadcasting Act licences (Broadcasting Investigation Procedures).

Although on their face the changes to the guidelines seem relatively minor, when considered against the background of (i) Ofcom’s increasingly pro-active enforcement policy; and (ii) the increased difficulty of challenging Ofcom’s decisions, following the 20 July 2017 change in the standard of review of decisions on appeal from an ‘on the merits‘ review to ‘judicial review principles‘, we expect the changes to make it easier for Ofcom to take action against regulated communications companies and more difficult for those companies to defend and appeal Ofcom’s decisions. As a net result, regulated communications companies need to take Ofcom enforcement action more seriously. Those companies are now financially incentivised to engage early with Ofcom and consider early settlement to secure a settlement discount, especially as they will find it more difficult to challenge Ofcom’s decisions on appeal.
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On 11 July 2017, Ofcom announced that it would be auctioning (i) 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band; and (ii) 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band in the UK in late 2017. Ofcom has decided to impose spectrum caps to, in Ofcom’s words, ‘safeguard competition‘. It remains to be seen whether any of the market participants challenge Ofcom’s decision on spectrum caps. Ofcom also published an Information Memorandum for prospective bidders and issued a consultation on the auction regulations. The consultation closes on 14 August 2017. Whilst the 2.3 GHz spectrum can be used for current LTE (4G) services, the 3.4 Ghz spectrum is expected to support faster next generation mobile (5G) services.
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On 10 May 2017, the European Commission published its mid-term review of the implementation of Europe’s Digital Single Market strategy. Launched in 2015, the ambitious strategy covered 16 actions under the three pillars: (1) improving access to digital goods and services for consumers and businesses across Europe; (2) creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish; and (3) maximising the growth potential of the digital economy. Despite a lot of activity, the Commission was only able to highlight one actual delivered improvement in its review – the abolition of retail roaming charges – although it looks forward to the imminent implementation of cross-border content portability in early 2018 and the expected approval of a proposal to address unjustified geo-blocking.

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On 27 April 2017, the UK’s new Digital Economy Act came into force. Following the calling of a snap General Election for 8 June, it was brought into force during the final parliamentary wash-up. Whilst some proposals were withdrawn or watered down, a number of important provisions, notably reform of the UK’s electronic communications code which governs the relationship between telecoms operators and landowners, were brought into force without significant amendment.

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In January 2017, the European Commission published the proposed text of a new draft e-Privacy Regulation (ePR) as part of its ongoing drive to advance one of its key initiatives, the Digital Single Market.

Whilst the impending introduction of the GDPR has been dominating headlines for the past months, the ePR has somewhat gone under the radar. We set out the key points to look out for with regard to the ePR and who it is likely to apply to.


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