Seanad debates

Friday, 18 December 2020

Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages


10:00 am

Barry Ward (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the provisions of section 6. They create a liability for the directors and officers of corporate bodies. I have two questions for the Minister of State. There was much discussion during the debate on Second Stage about the need for regulation of social media platforms, many of which essentially provide the base on which much of the abuse, harassment and so forth take place. Is there provision in this section to allow us to enforce certain actions by social media platforms? For example, offences under this legislation are described in subsection (1), but if the facilitation of such an offence is created by a social media platform, whichever one it might be, is it therefore corporately guilty of an offence?

I also wish to refer to a proposal I put forward. Although it is not part of this Bill, when we had statements on these issues a week or two ago, one of the matters I discussed was copyright issues. In the Dáil the Government removed the provision relating to civil restraint orders. The Department takes the view that this is a criminal statute and, therefore, civil remedies should be removed from it. I make no comment on that, but that is the reason I have not proposed any amendments relating to the copyright proposal I made during the statements. I was suggesting that where intimate images along the lines of those defined in the Bill were published without consent, in the same way that is described in many of the offences that will be created by this Bill, the person who is the subject of that image would automatically assume the copyright of the image. The reason that is important is that the social media platforms and the IT corporations around the world sit up and listen when copyright is on the agenda.

If a significant musical artist approaches YouTube and says there is a post on the platform that infringes on the artist's copyright of song X, YouTube is very quick to react to that. On the other side of the coin, in Ireland when somebody contacts Facebook, Twitter or the like to say there is an image of the person on the platform with which the person is unhappy or that is in contravention of whatever it might be, not only are those platforms slow to take it down but, more often than not, they do not take it down and take no action. One of the reasons corporations respond to copyright issues is the strong legislation in the United States in respect of copyright infringement protection, so they must have regard to it. They are transnational corporations so it is not even the case that we must put similar legislation in place because the infringement takes place across the world and, therefore, can be enforced through US legislation.

My idea is that if somebody is the subject of an intimate image, or the purported representations we discussed earlier in the definition section, and owns the copyright of that image, if the person goes to X social media platform and tells it that it is infringing the copyright, there is a greater likelihood it will take what the person says on board and take action on it. The reality is that when such an image is put on a platform, the damage is done. It is exacerbated every time it is shared or every time somebody sees it and so forth, but the damage is done and one cannot put the genie back in the bottle. The best approximation we have to putting the genie back in the bottle is by stopping the further sharing of that image, by ensuring that the platforms that facilitate its sharing take it down every time it goes up. At present, that is not happening.

With regard to section 6, are there offences in it that can be used to impress upon the social media platforms, many of which have head offices and a significant corporate presence in this jurisdiction, that action will be taken if they facilitate the offences this Bill creates? The second issue is a general question about copyright. I did not table an amendment and this is not the appropriate Bill for it, but is there anything we can do in respect of either ascribing copyright to individuals or enforcing copyright infringements in respect of social media platforms?


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