The European Court of Justice on Thursday (November 9th) sided with tech giants TikTok, Meta and Alphabet’s Google against Austria’s online content law, which regulates how platforms should deal with harmful and illegal content.
The EU’s Supreme Court has ruled that large tech companies are not subject to illegal content reporting systems or reporting obligations imposed by EU member states that go beyond their own jurisdiction.
“We are satisfied with today’s decision, which reaffirms the importance of the EU country of origin principle. We will review the ruling and continue to invest in the trust and security of our users across all our platforms,” a Google spokesperson said. Reuters.
With the victory, the tech giants bypassed the Austrian decision to delete hate speech or fines of up to 10 million euros.
The result is not a surprise, given that EU Advocate Generalwhose advice is often followed by judges of the EU court, in his legal opinion in June he asserted that the Austrian law should be considered inadmissible.
According to the EU’s ombudsman, the case lacked the necessary case-by-case reference, which means that the Austrian law impermissibly limited the platforms’ freedom to provide services.
“At a time when European users of digital platforms face hate speech and false reports on a daily basis, it is above all disappointing that the Court of Justice rejected the strict obligations for communication platforms foreseen by Austria”, Anselm Küsters, head of digitization and new technologies at the Center for European policy (CEP), she told Euractiv.
In October 2022, the Digital Services Act (DSA) was adopted to establish harmonized rules for a safe and reliable online environment where fundamental rights are protected.
In September, EU content regulation began to apply to the largest, ‘systemic’ platforms. From February 2024, it will apply to all participants in the online ecosystem.
DSA builds on Directive on e-commerceEU legislative framework based on the ‘country of origin principle’, which means that online platform services are only subject to the law and supervision of the EU country where they have their (EU) headquarters.
The General Data Protection Regulation 2018 and the Digital Services Act 2022 confirmed this provision.
In a few exceptional cases, in order to protect important public interests, such as minors, other member states, in this case Austria, may take measures against a certain service.
With this court ruling, the European Court of Justice reaffirmed that national law imposing obligations for a generally defined category of certain services, such as communication platforms, is not subject to this exception.
“The Court of Justice had very good reasons under EU law to deny the applicability of the Austrian measures to Google, Meta and TikTok – which, as is known, are based in Ireland – above all the integrity of the common internal market, should not be fragmented by national regulations,” Küsters told Euractiv.
(Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljević)