Online Multimedia: Italian Imperialism

Accessibility 4 All by Claude Almansi

Italian bill on multimedia services

The Italian parliament is presently examining a government proposal of a decree that would modify the law on TV and radio towards the implementation of  “Directive 2007/65/EC [Webcite archived version] of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities.”

The human-readable “schede di lettura” (reading notes) of the Camera dei deputati (Lower House) are available online [Webcite archived version]. The actual bill in legalese has not been officially published online, but an unofficial scan of a fax version is available from several sites, e.g., mcreporter.info/documenti/ac169.pdf (3.7 MB).

Online video = television

While the EU directive’s purpose is to take into account new on demand television offers, the definition of multimedia services in article 4 of the Italian bill also equates Web sites/platforms that offer online video to multimedia services subject to the same obligations stipulated by the bill as television broadcasters, unless their use of video is merely “incidental.” Among these obligations: editorial control, which means – in the case of web sites/platform offering videos – provider’s liability.

Jurisdiction

Article 2 of the Italian bill stipulates that media service providers – including sites/platforms hosting videos in a “non incidental” way, see above – situated in Italy are subject to Italian jurisdiction, i.e., to the bill. The bill’s definition of “situated in Italy” includes media service providers:

  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if editorial decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • whose main seat is in Italy, even if service decisions are taken in another State of the EU
  • who use an earth-satellite up-link based in Italy

Moreover, article 3, about cross-border broadcasting, of the Italian bill stipulates that Italy  can ask, at the request of EU members, for the block of broadcasts from non-EU countries for motives of:

  • public order
  • protection of public health
  • safeguard of public safety, including national defense
  • consumers’ and investors’ protection

and impose a fine of Euro 150.00 – 150’000.00 if the non-EU provider does not comply with the blocking demand.

Paradox of timing restrictions for adult (pornographic, violent) content

One of the paradoxes of considering sites/platforms that offer videos as televisions subject to the bill appears in its article 9, about the protection of minors. This article stipulates that adult (pornographic or violent) content cannot be broadcast between 7 am and 11 pm.

As to the absurdity of applying such a timing limitation to videos offered on the web, see Kine’s ironic remark in the discussion Decreto Romani – Stop ai film vietati in TV e sul Web [Webcite archived version] started Jan. 21, 2010: “Come sarebbe anche al WEB scusa? Non [l]i guardo i film su youjizz dalle 7 alle 23?” (“What, also on the WEB? Can’t I watch videos on youjizz from 7 am to 11 pm?”)

Threat to accessibility

The Italian bill creates a similar absurdity for accessibility: it keeps the EU directive’s audiodescription and  captioning requirements for TV, but it threatens the possibility to use Web sites / platforms offering videos by submitting them to the same  conditions as TV channels. And even if a text-only offering of information and knowledge will pass automated accessibility tests, multimedia is a very important part of real accessibility for all.

The paradox here is that Italy has probably the best legal tools for furthering computer accessibility in EU, and maybe in the world, and actually works at implementing them. See the accessibile.gov.it site of the official observatory for accessibility in the public administration, which recently published Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version]  (Accessibility and quality of audiovisual content).

This tutorial fully integrates a text part and a video provided with Italian and English subtitles:

Webmultimediale

In the text part, Roberto Ellero refers to several pages of www.webmultimediale.org, the main site of  Webmultimediale, a project he founded for the study of online multimedia, and in particular of how the accessibility requirements for online multimedia can be a stimulus for creativity and a great help in education because these requirements also cater to various learning styles.

Webmultimediale is among the projects directly threatened by the bill’s equating of online videos with TV offerings. Not only does its www.webmultimediale.org site make a “non incidental” use of video, but it also has an open video hosting part, www.webmultimediale.it, where people upload their videos with a time-coded transcript in order to caption them. No way either could be maintained if the bill passes. Which means that Roberto Ellero’s tutorial on Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi [Webcite archived version], commissioned by the government’s Observatory of accessibility in the public administration, would be severely maimed.

I happen to participate in the Webmultimediale project. The jurisdiction conditions in the bill made me think of a discussion about Web accessibility Roberto and I animated at the end of last November. Roberto lives in Venice; I, in Geneva. The discussion venue was the Instructional Technology Forum mailing list, based at the University of Georgia (US) but with subscribers from all over the world, and how we all used variously hosted e-mail accounts. So where were “editorial” decisions made, in so far as there were any? Were they made, e.g., when I embedded a California-hosted YouTube video, made by Roberto in Venice, in the Florida-hosted wiki that we used for background material and, later, to gather the discussion threads? Under what jurisdiction did I do that?

Threat to education

Beyond the Webmultimediale example above, it is the use of multimedia in Italian education that is put at risk by the bill. If it becomes law, what teachers and educational institutions will dare offer a video podcast of lectures, scientific experiments, and use of video in teaching under the threat of being asked to comply with the administrative requirements imposed by the bill for TV broadcasters? Even if they try to upload the videos on a foreign platform and link to them, there would still be a risk that the foreign platform will be considered a television broadcaster and blocked in Italy.

2 Responses

  1. Yesterday, I was wondering how come people had started viewing this February post again. Today, Roberto Ellero sent me a link that explains why:

    In Addio alle Web TV, Claudio Messora first retraces the history of the Decreto Romani on multimedia (already described in English in the above post).

    However, at the end of last month, the Italian Communications Regulatory Authority (AgCom) published the application norms for that decree Claudio Messora quotes the part about the red tape required:

    a) certificato di iscrizione del registro delle imprese relativo al soggetto richiedente, ovvero dichiarazione sostitutiva resa ai sensi del d.P.R. n. 445/2000;

    b) certificato del casellario giudiziale del legale rappresentante del soggetto richiedente, ovvero dichiarazione sostitutiva resa ai sensi del d.P.R. n. 445/2000;

    c) certificato antimafia ai sensi dell’articolo 10 della legge 31 maggio 1965, n. 575 e successive modificazioni, ovvero dichiarazione sostitutiva resa ai sensi del d.P.R. n. 445/2000;

    d) certificato dei carichi pendenti del soggetto richiedente, ovvero dichiarazione sostitutiva resa ai sensi del d.P.R. n. 445/2000;

    e) attestazione in originale, ovvero in fotocopia autenticata nelle forme di legge, del versamento del contributo di cui all’art. 6 del presente regolamento anche mediante l’esibizione del C.R.O. (codice riferimento operazione) nel caso di pagamenti effettuati per via telematica;

    f) la scheda di cui all’allegato 2, relativa al sistema trasmissivo impiegato redatta su carta intestata della società, datata e firmata dal rappresentante legale del richiedente;

    g) copia del marchio editoriale di trasmissione del programma, riprodotta su carta intestata della società, datata e firmata ai sensi del d.P.R. n. 445/2000 dal rappresentante legale del richiedente;

    h) dichiarazione, datata e sottoscritta ai sensi del d.P.R. n. 445/2000 dal rappresentante legale, concernente l’indicazione ed, il recapito del fornitore di rete che mette a disposizione il mezzo trasmissivo.

    It is OK to translate this list and/or the whole document by AgCom with Google language tools or Babelfish, because even native Italian speakers, unless they are lawyers, won’t be able to understand them either: as Messora puts it:

    …Quindi, d’ora in poi per fare quello che ovunque non richiede altro che una web cam e una connessione ad internet, in Italia bisognerà innanzitutto pagare un esperto che ci spieghi cosa diavolo dobbiamo presentare….

    (…So from now on, in Italy, in order to do what only requires a webcam and an internet connection, we’ll first have to pay an expert for an explanation of what documents we must present…).

    One of this requirements specifically excludes private citizens: the obligation to be registered in the official list of enterprises (registro delle imprese)

    True, AgCom’s application norms, like the decree itself, foresees some exemptions for “i servizi nei quali il contenuto audiovisivo è meramente incidentale e non ne costituisce la finalità principale” (“services where the audiovisual content is merely incidental and not the main purpose”) but the examples that follow do not cover e.g. videoblogs, live streaming of an event, and other similar audiovisual activities allowed in the rest of the world.

    ***

    In the e-mail where Roberto sent me the link to Claudio Messora’s post, he added: “meno male che wm non sta in Italia…”; i.e.: it’s a good thing that Webmultimediale is not in Italy.

    Webmultimediale is the project he founded, which explores how the application of accessibility norms for online multimedia can be a stimulus for creativity – and where I’ve learned and am learning about multimedia accessibility.

    We put the website Webmultimediale.org – where the use of audiovisual material is central – in my name in February because of this Decreto Romani, as I live in Switzerland. Back then, I wondered if we were not getting overly worried about it. Now I see we weren’t.

    But many other Italian blogs make a “non incidental” use of audiovisual material: to mention only two that also have an English version: Robin Good’s (Luigi Canali de Rossi’s) MasterNewMedia.org and
    Beppe Grillo’s beppegrillo.it.

  2. Update: On Feb. 2, 2010, David Thorne, US Ambassador in Rome, sent a cable to the US State dept about the Decreto Romani: “”Subject: Opponents of Italian Internet Bill say it stifles free speech, threatens democracy”, which was released yesterday (Dec. 13, 2010) by WikiLeaks:

    1. (C) SUMMARY: Opponents of a new bill before Italian
    parliament that would further regulate the Internet say it
    endangers free speech and is a threat to Italian democracy.
    The bill also appears to favor PM Berlusconi’s Mediaset
    television service while disadvantaging Sky, one of its major
    competitors. The GOI says the bill is intended to implement
    an EU directive that harmonizes media regulation and that the
    provisions being criticised are designed to establish greater
    protection of copyrighted material, to protect children from
    inappropriate broadcasts, and to keep consumers from paying
    twice by being subjected to excessive advertising on pay-TV
    channels. Opponents say the law far exceeds the scope and
    spirit of the EU law and severely restricts free expression
    on the Internet. Due to advertising and content regulation
    in the bill, some have read it as an effort to give
    Berlusconi greater control over communication and to drive
    out Mediaset’s competitors. Implementation of the bill has
    been postponed from its original date of January 27 and
    parliament is holding hearings on the matter. The GOI
    appears open to discussion of the bill’s text. While
    reaction to the bill has been strong among opposition
    politicians and telecom professionals, the issue has not made
    it to the front pages of newspapers so there has been no
    strong public reation. Despite GOI protestations, the bill
    is troubling as it appears to have been written to give the
    government enough leeway to block or censor any Internet
    content. END SUMMARY

    ¶2. (SBU) According to the GOI, the Romani Bill (named for
    Paolo Romani, Deputy Economic Development Minister, who
    covers communications issues) is designed to implement EU
    Directive 2007/65CE, which aims to harmonize media regulation
    in the EU. Many telecom sector professionals, however,
    believe that the bill vastly exceeds the scope and spirit of
    the EU law. The bill is complex, but there are three primary
    areas of concern: limits to uploading on the Interet,
    television advertising ceilings, and limits to content aimed
    for adults, which would also restrict films judged by the
    Italian rating system as being for those 14 and older. This
    would likely include the vast majority if not all
    U.S.-produced PG-13 movies. …

    Read the rest at http://wikileaks.ch/cable/2010/02/10ROME125.html,

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