(CN) – The video section of an Austrian online newspaper may be an on-demand audiovisual service subject to regulation under EU law, the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday.
New Media Online operates the online newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung, which contains mostly articles from the written press. But a link leads to a subdomain containing more than 300 videos on various subjects that had little to do with the newspaper’s reporting – including several produced by a regional television station.
The Austrian communications authority said the newspaper’s video section amounted to an on-demand audiovisual service under EU law and was therefore subject to reporting requirements and regulation. New Media appealed that decision to an Austrian administrative court, which asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on whether the directive applied to online newspapers.
In a 6-page opinion, the Luxembourg-based high court acknowledged that the directive does not expressly apply to online versions of newspapers and magazines. But the Tiroler Tageszeitung’s subdomain with its variety of videos – news, sports and entertainment – can be considered a “program” under the directive and therefore subject to regulation.
The court noted that finding otherwise would be unfair to other media outlets that provide the same types of videos and are regulated by the directive. The only way an online newspaper can dodge the requirements is by posting only videos directly related to the stories they cover, the court said.
“It appears from the statements of the referring court and the documents submitted to the court that very few press articles are linked to the video clips at issue. Moreover, according to the information in the documents before the court, the majority of those videos can be accessed and watched regardless of whether the articles of the electronic version of a newspaper are consulted,” the court wrote.
“Those factors tend to show that the service at issue could be regarded as having form and content which is independent of that of the journalistic activity of New Media and, therefore, as constituting a distinct service from the other services offered by that appellant. Such an assessment is a matter for the referring court.”
The court’s decision was a rare break from its adviser’s position earlier this year.
There, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said Austrian regulators followed an overly broad, too literal definition of audiovisual media services by applying the label to the Tiroler Tagezeitung’s online offerings, and that the videos were not meant to be consumed separately from the site’s main content.
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