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On February 13, Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) draft bill, which would predicate interactive computer services’ Section 230 immunity on compliance with “best practices” in the proposed Act and impose liability for tech platforms that allow dissemination of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), circulated. The EARN IT Act of 2019 would establish a Commission that would seek to prevent the exploitation of children online by submitting recommended best practices to the attorney general (AG). The AG reviews and can modify the best practices before publishing them to the Federal Register, under Section 4(b) of the Act. Within one year of posting these best practices, interactive computer services are required under Section 4(c) to submit a written certification to the AG that they have reviewed and implemented the best practices. If the AG has any reason to believe the interactive computer service is not complying with best practices it can order an investigation, imposing significantly more scrutiny on the platforms previous blanket immunity under Section 230. Read more here.
On February 12, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport announced that it is “minded” to grant the Office of Communications (Ofcom) the power to regulate online platforms. The announcement was included in the Department’s initial response to the Online Harms White Paper released last April. The aim is to make the internet a safer place by protecting children and vulnerable people, in addition to increasing user trust in technology. According to the government’s announcement, Ofcom will be responsible for protecting internet users from harmful and illegal content, particularly terrorist and child abuse content. The regulations will only apply to companies that share user-generated content. Currently, Ofcom is responsible for regulating the broadcasting and telecoms industries. The Department will publish a full response to the White Paper later in the spring. Read more here.
On February 11, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will re-examine past acquisitions of small and nascent firms by big tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet. The Special Orders, issued under Section 6(b), require the identified companies to provide information on acquisition transactions that took place in the last decade. Section 6(b) allows the FTC to request information for studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose in order to evaluate the companies’ acquisition activities and to evaluate whether they are making anticompetitive acquisitions that fall below reporting thresholds. The announcement came following the conclusion of the hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, held between September 2018 and June 2019. The Commission approved the issuance of the Special Orders unanimously. Read more here.
On February 6, 2020, the House Steering Committee selected Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) to replace Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, as Collins steps down to run for Georgia’s Senate seat. Rep. Collins and House Antitrust Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) remain lead sponsors for H.R. 2054, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The legislation is still expected to go through regular order in the House this year, according to statements made by the Chairman, while the Senate version has gained co-sponsors and the Alliance supports regular order – a hearing and markup – in the Senate, as well. Lawmakers are aware of the urgency, and the importance of ensuring passage of this legislation.
On January 29, President Trump signed the newly negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) following the Senate’s adoption of the agreement on January 16 in an 89-10 vote and the House’s passage in December by a 385-41 vote. The agreement, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was finalized between the three countries over a year ago but faced significant challenges due to concerns by the House Democrats who insisted on changes in some of the key provisions prior to passage. Despite last-minute efforts by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the final agreement still includes provisions similar to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that establishes broad liability immunities for online platforms for third-party content they publish. USMCA marks the first time such immunities are enshrined in a trade agreement. Before taking effect, USMCA must still be approved by the Canadian Parliament. Read more here.
On January 14, 2020, Google announced that it intends to phase out its support of third-party cookies within the next two years as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative. These changes will take place within Google’s Chrome browser, which is the dominant browser at 69% global market share, and could significantly impact the subscription and advertising revenue of news publishers. This change follows indications from Google that it would continue taking privacy-related actions. For example, Google’s changes to the Chrome browser’s incognito mode in July 2019 were said to be intended to protect consumer privacy, but instead the changes to the browser facilitated paywall circumvention and did nothing more to protect users’ privacy than before the changes were made. Google has stated that it plans to work with publishers, advertisers, and other relevant stakeholders to determine how the new policies will be developed and implemented. The Alliance is engaged in good faith efforts with Google to ensure any new policies benefit news publishers and to learn how the policies will impact news publishers’ business.
The Alliance submitted comments on January 10, 2020, to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) regarding their request for comments on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the protection of intellectual property. The comments focused on USTPO’s question regarding the ingestion of large volumes of copyrighted material for AI training purposes, and whether such use constitutes fair use and is adequately addressed by existing statutory language and case law. The Alliance comments noted the existential threat to the news industry posed by the unlicensed use of news content for AI training purposes, and argued that while the current case law provides protections for news content against such use, stronger enforcement is needed. The comments also emphasized the importance of fair use analysis, including the market effect unauthorized copying has on news publishers. While the current legal framework, properly understood and enforced, should provide adequate protections for news content, legislative solutions may be useful if that is not the case. Read the full comments here.