Worries as FPB targets online content - TechCentral

Worries as FPB targets online content

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The Film and Publication Board (FPB) has issued updated tariffs for content providers, in the process introducing a new “licensing fee for online distribution”. It’s a move that is raising concern among Internet service providers.

Gazette 37531, effective from 7 April, introduced the new fee category without it being subjected to public comment. A tariff of up to R750 000 can be imposed “at the discretion of the executive committee” of the FPB.

FPB communications and public education manager Mlimandlela Ndamase says the fee was introduced to accommodate online distributors, including foreign companies that sell large volumes of content over the Internet. This includes mobile applications, games and movies.

“The distributors will have to satisfy the FPB that they have age rating systems, and these will have to be aligned to our classification guidelines and, where necessary, the FPB will provide training to such institutions,” says Ndamase. “An example of this kind of distributor is Apple, with which we are in a pilot phase regarding this arrangement.”

South African Apple distributor Core Group referred a query from TechCentral about the pilot project to Apple in Europe. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ndamase says the R750 000 fee is the maximum amount that can be imposed by the executive committee and, if an applicant feels it should be reduced, it has to supply the board with reasons for such a request.

In addition to the new fee category for online distribution, the gazette has also introduced a new penalty fee for online distributors who incorrectly display age restrictions on movies, games and other content. This is up to R15 000 and is “at the discretion of the executive committee”.

Internet service providers are worried that the new fee category could also be applied to them. Internet Service Providers’ Association regulatory advisor Dominic Cull says “online distribution” is not defined by the FPB.

“One interpretation is that they are looking to apply this licensing fee to people who provide video-on-demand services or who distribute films and publications online,” says Cull.

“But another, more alarming interpretation is that it could apply to any content that is distributed online,” says Cull.

Cull says it’s also not clear on what basis the FPB’s executive committee will be exercise its discretion in imposing the fee of up to R750 000.

“How can it be left open like that in a tariff document … without a public comment process?” says Cull. “The new tariffs get published on 7 April, come into force on the same day, and suddenly if you want to do online distribution, you are faced with a potential fee of up to R750 000.”

Content regulation will form part of the information and communications technology policy review process being spearheaded by communications minister Yunus Carrim, says Cull. There is debate about what is the most appropriate body to conduct this regulation, says Cull. “Should we look at the FPB or [communications regulator]Icasa, or should we look at creating a specialist agency?” — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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