Given the central role that online platforms (OPs) play in the digital economy, questions arise about their responsibility in relation to illegal/harmful content or products hosted in the frame of their operation. It is therefore necessary to assess the adequacy and efficiency of the extant EU legal framework, in particular with respect to the liability exceptions provided by the e-Commerce Directive, and to ensure adequate protection for users and their fundamental rights and freedoms (e.g. freedom of expression and of information).

Against this background, the study reviews the main legal/regulatory challenges associated with the operation of OPs and analyses the incentives for OPs, their users and third parties, to detect and remove illegal/harmful and dangerous material, content and/or products. To create a functional classification which can be used for regulatory purposes, it discusses the notion of OPs and attempts to categorise them under multiple criteria. The study then maps and critically assesses the whole range of OP liabilities, taking hard and soft law, self-regulation, as well as national legislation into consideration. To do so, the study distinguishes between liabilities connected with the activities performed or the content uploaded by OP users – from the liability exemptions established by the e-Commerce Directive, to the sectoral rules provided in media law, intellectual property (IP) law, product safety and product liability, protection of minors, hate speech, disinformation and voting manipulation, terrorist activities – and alternative sources of liability, such as OPs’ contractual liability towards users, both businesses and consumers, as well as that deriving from infringements of privacy and data protection law.

Finally, the study drafts policy options for an efficient EU liability regime: (i) maintaining the status quo; (ii) awareness-raising and media literacy; (iii) promoting self-regulation; (iv) establishing co-regulation mechanisms and tools; (v) adopting statutory legislation; (vi) modifying OPs’ secondary liability by employing two different models – (a) by clarifying the conditions for liability exemptions under e-Commerce Directive, or (b) by establishing a harmonised regime of liability.

Full study is available here