ArtsWatch: EU Battles Ads For Xmas
Europe's new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive broadly empowers consumers
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On Dec. 12, the European Union Unfair Commercial Practices Directive came into force, blacklisting many common sales practices such as announcing that a consumer has won a special prize when they haven't, or that a consumer is being offered something for free when it isn't. (link) Similar practices have been used in the past to promote paid online and mobile content such as music and ringtones, too often subjecting consumers to unexpected charges. Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said, "There can be no place in Europe's Single Market for traders who pressure, bully or mislead people, particularly at Christmas the busiest shopping time of the year. That's why Europe is taking the lead; these are some of the toughest rules on misleading and pressure selling in the world." In a separate action against Italy regarding television advertising regulations, the EU complained of too many commercial breaks as well as ads for broadcasters' own shows not being properly categorized as ads. (link) Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said, "Broadcasters need advertising and advertisers need broadcasters, but we must also have effective consumer protection. What we actually need is responsible advertising." Emerging digital platforms and services support new types of offers — such as e-mail spam, pop-up windows and mobile text messages — and children are most easily taken advantage of. The European crackdown this holiday season is one step down a long road that will gain in importance as innovators continue to find new ways to approach customers.
The MPAA and RIAA announced their holiday antipiracy crackdown on Dec. 10, reporting that more than 200,000 pirate disks have been seized and 134 arrests made in national efforts so far. (link) RIAA Executive VP, Anti-Piracy Brad Buckles said, "With all the great ways to get high quality, affordable legal music either online or at retail, we hope all fans will pay attention to what they buy and make sure to get the real thing."
On Dec. 7, the Electronic Frontier Foundation publicized IFPI efforts to convince Internet Service Providers in Europe to take more aggressive steps against online piracy, such as blocking infringing content, P2P protocols and notorious Internet servers such as Pirate Bay. (link) Warning of collateral damage and potential for misuse, the EFF hopes to deter regulators from making such steps mandatory.
The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property heard testimony on Dec. 13 largely supporting H.R. 4279 — the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act. Consumer advocates Public Knowledge made a few specific suggestions and praised the subcommittee's cooperation. The Teamsters Union and General Counsel for NBC Universal both paid the bill many compliments. The strongest objections to PRO IP came from the representative of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, who expressed concern that the proposed new top IP official and new Justice Department IP division might look good on paper but could interfere with real world enforcement and could force successful current activities to be eliminated or duplicated.
On Dec. 5, the Nielsen Company and watermark leader Digimarc announced their combined efforts to develop Nielsen Digital Media Manager, a new system to digitally watermark television broadcasts next year followed by a rollout to other media types. (link)
Take Two Interactive's game "Manhunt 2" was banned in Britain but on Dec. 10 narrowly won an appeal within the British Board of Film Classification, forcing the ban to be reconsidered. (link) Many observers have a sensitive reaction to the game's premise — inviting children to put themselves in the place of a supposed lunatic who must kill repeatedly to find out what is being done to him and why.
On Dec. 13, the Federal Communications Commission's five commissioners testified before the Senate Commerce Committee. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin ably defended his proposal to relax media cross-ownership caps for newspapers and was committed to move forward on a vote as scheduled for Dec. 18. As described in last week's ArtsWatch, (link) this is the committee that passed S. 2332 — the Media Ownership Act earlier this month relating to the FCC's vote, and the two Democratic commissioners commended the bill. Michael Copps said, "The Commission's priorities are dangerously out-of-whack, and we urgently need this Committee's help to save us from ourselves." Jonathan Adelstein more calmly laid out a lengthy argument against deregulation and said, "In the wake of ... the unanimous vote of this Committee to compel a more open and transparent process, I would have expected the Commission to redirect its course." The two other Republican commissioners (besides Martin) gave no indication they would not support his proposal while testifying extensively and insightfully about their personal views as regulators.