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Online Platforms and the Digital Single Market

Online platforms have dramatically changed the digital economy over the last two decades and bring many benefits in today’s digital society. They play a prominent role in the creation of ‘digital value’ that underpins future economic growth in the EU and consequently are of major importance to the effective functioning of the digital single market.

Online platforms come in various shapes and sizes and continue to evolve at a pace not seen in any other sector of the economy. Presently, they cover a wide-ranging set of activities including online advertising platforms, marketplaces, search engines, social media and creative content outlets, application distribution platforms, communications services, payment systems, and platforms for the collaborative economy.

However, the growing importance of the digital economy linked with the diversity and fast-changing nature of platform ecosystems also raise new policy and regulatory challenges. This Communication (de) (proposal and draft) addresses both the innovation and growth dimension, as well as any regulatory challenges.

In response to the public consultation on the evaluation and review of the regulatory framework for electronic communications, the majority of respondents — including a number of Member States, operator associations, most incumbents and vendors — consider that OTT services provide consumers a functional substitute for traditional telecommunications services.

Respondents to the public consultation across different stakeholder groups suggested there should be a focus on the specific activities that online platforms perform and to ensure a level playing field. As a general principle, comparable digital services should be subject to the same or similar rules, duly considering opportunities for reducing the scope and extent of existing regulation.

The present liability regime for intermediary service providers, as set out in the e-Commerce Directive, was designed at a time when online platforms did not have the characteristics and scale they have today. However, it did create a technology-neutral regulatory environment that has considerably facilitated their scaling-up.

New forms of online content distribution have emerged that may make copyright-protected content uploaded by end-users widely available. While these services are attracting a growing audience and gain economic benefits from the content distribution, there is a growing concern as to whether the value generated by some of these new forms of online content distribution is fairly shared between distributors and rights holders.

In the context of the evaluation and modernisation of the enforcement of intellectual property rights the Commission will assess the role intermediaries can play in the protection of intellectual property rights, including in relation to counterfeit goods, and will consider amending the specific legal framework for enforcement. The Commission will also continue to engage with platforms in setting up and applying voluntary cooperation mechanisms aimed at depriving those engaging in commercial infringements of intellectual property rights of the revenue streams emanating from their illegal activities, in line with a “follow the money” approach.