The Media and Entertainment Law Review: Latvia
The media industry in Latvia has won recognition of its rights and privileges in opposition to the state and individuals. Investigative journalists working online and in print, radio and television (TV) have done groundbreaking work to reveal serious violations and crimes. Public media, mainly owing to its digital presence, has been recognised as a legitimate, trustworthy and useful source of information. However, financial instability endangers its existence. Additionally, fake news, particularly, in terms of social networks, is an ever growing problem. These issues diminish the overall image of the media in the eyes of society. Another issue is Russian-language TV channels, originating in Russia, which often violate the limitations of freedom of expression, distribute hate speech or ignore other principles of a free and responsible media.
One of the most important events of 2020, which drew major attention to the operation of the media in Latvia was the Riga City Council emergency elections. The National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEMMC) applied fines to several radio and TV channels claiming that they had organised covert agitations in the interests of some political parties.
In the field of entertainment, there have been cases of consumer rights infringements. However, the ongoing work of the Consumer Rights Protection Centre (CRPC) has helped to improve the situation, through both cooperation and law enforcement; for example, in 2021, the CRPC turned its attention to social media marketing and the operations of influencers. This resulted in warnings being issued and fines imposed on some popular Latvian influencers (see Section V.ii).
In September 2019, one of Latvia's three mobile operators, Bite, announced the acquisition of the major cable TV operator Baltcom. The merger was cleared by the Competition Council at the beginning of 2020, thus following the trend of consolidating telecoms businesses with content creation and entertainment businesses. Furthermore, at the end of 2021, Baltcom acquired Dautkom TV, expanding its operation in the Latgale region (see Section V.i).
One of the key milestones in Latvia in 2019 was the establishment of the Latvian Media Ethics Council, which is a self-regulatory, collegial mechanism for monitoring Latvian media ethics consisting of media companies and professional members of the Latvian Civic Alliance.2
During the 2020 covid-19 pandemic, state financial support was given to the media to promote awareness of measures taken during the emergency situation. Support was primarily provided to commercial media organisations and media aimed at national minorities, which were the categories recognised as being most severely affected by the pandemic. This financing has continued throughout 2021, but it is questionable whether it will ultimately be enough to sustain Latvia's public media sector.
Legal and regulatory framework
i Legal framework
Freedom of the press is established in Article 100 of the Constitution of Latvia.3
The main umbrella law for the media in Latvia is the Press Law.4 Electronic media is regulated by the Law on Electronic Media,5 which, inter alia, implements the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive.6 The Electronic Communications Law7 regulates internet and intellectual property-based services and provides the legal basis for the powers of the Public Utilities Commission (the Regulator).8 Specific rules of the Law on Information Society Services9 apply to internet service providers.
Intellectual property issues are mainly regulated by the Copyright Law.10
The sector is also regulated by general regulations, such as the Consumer Protection Law, as well as Cabinet of Ministers regulations or decisions by the Regulator, relating to the above-mentioned laws.
ii Relevant regulators and their powers
The media and entertainment field is mainly regulated by the Regulator and the NEMMC.11
The Regulator is an institutionally and functionally independent autonomous body governed by public law. It regulates business activities in the electronic communications sector and protects users' rights from a technological perspective. The Regulator's actions are based on the Law on Regulators of Public Utilities (2001),12 as well as on other legal acts covering specific regulated sectors. In the field of electronic communications, the Regulator monitors the services provided by electronic communications companies, including voice telephony, the transmission of data and electronic messages and internet access.
The NEMMC is an independent, autonomous institution that represents the public interest in the field of electronic mass media. The NEMMC supervises the compliance of the operations of electronic mass media with the Constitution, the Law on Electronic Mass Media (LEMM) and other relevant legislation. The NEMMC is responsible for producing the National Strategy for the Development of the Electronic Mass Media.
Free speech and media freedom
i Protected forms of expression
At the national level, the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 100 of the Constitution. The Constitutional Court of Latvia has concluded that the term freedom of expression includes the term freedom of the press (in its wider definition) and the right of the public to receive information.13 This right covers, inter alia, the right of citizens to choose the language in which they would like to receive information or express their opinion,14 as well as the right to pre-election campaigning.15
However, this right is not absolute. Article 116 of the Constitution, interpreted in light of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, stipulates that these rights may be subject to restrictions in circumstances provided for by law to protect specific legitimate interests.16
Hate speech is absolutely excluded from protection under Article 100. The punishment for triggering national, ethnic or racial hatred can include imprisonment for a period of three to 10 years.17 Zero tolerance towards hate speech was highlighted by an NEMMC decision of 31 January 2019 suspending the retransmission of Russian-language channel Rossija RTR for three months. The decision was based on statements hostile to some Ukrainian nationals, and calls by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Russian politician, for military action against the territory of Ukraine.18 A repeat suspension for one year has once again been imposed on Rossija RTR since the beginning of February 2021 because of hostile statements directed at political powers in the cities of Kiev, Minsk and Brussels, and its call for the use violence against Belarusian opposition leaders.19
In other cases, such as infringement of privacy, the conflicting principles of freedom of expression and the right to privacy must be balanced by a journalist before publication of an infringing article, and by the courts if they need to evaluate the case.
Commercial speech receives less protection. Here the regulations of the Law on Advertising (1999)20 and the Unfair Commercial Practices Prohibition Law (2007)21 (regarding business-to-customer advertising) apply.
The Press Law states that a journalist has the right to gather information by any method not prohibited by law and from any source of information not prohibited by law.
First, this statement means that the privilege of newsgathering is reserved specifically to journalists – persons who, in accordance with the institutional legal framework provided by the law, prepare materials for a mass medium and who have entered into an employment contract or perform work of this kind upon the instruction of a mass medium, or are members of the Latvia Union of Journalists. Second, the law does not specify what journalistic methods, experiments and technical equipment are permitted or prohibited. However, any action must be proportionate to the privacy, data protection and public interest of an individual. Additionally, a journalist must take into consideration the prohibitions stated in the Criminal Law, such as the prohibition against illegally opening or destroying mail.
It has been recognised that a journalist may use hidden camera or audio recordings if:
- an issue is of public interest;22
- this is the last resort and it is not possible to obtain the information otherwise; or
- the journalist respects ethics; for example, by masking the interviewee's face or changing his or her voice by technical means.
Journalists may enter private property without permission only if they have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. In private property, the procedures for taking photographs or filming should normally be determined by the owner or legal user of the equipment.
The use of drones is regulated by Cabinet regulations.23 It is essential that flights do not endanger human life, health, privacy or property, the environment or the interests of national security. In certain situations, permission to use drones is needed.
In terms of balancing the need to gather news with the duty to respect others' rights, a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court is considered important.24 In that case, a photographer took photos in an Orthodox church during the baptism of a child and published the photos in a newspaper with a circulation of 60,000. The Court decided that the journalist had violated the law and the code of ethics, taking into account that the church specifically prohibits the media from intruding on ceremonies.
There has recently been a debate on journalists' rights to gather personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Even though Article 32 of the Personal Data Processing Law (2018)25 states journalistic work as one of the examples from the GDPR, the lack of understanding of the rules has led to some misunderstandings, such as prohibitions against journalists taking photos at public events.26
iii Freedom of access to government information
The Press Law provides the media with the privilege to receive information from national and public organisations. It is obligatory for state officials to provide this information unless it falls under the scope of information not to be published as defined in the Law.
The Law states that the press cannot publish (and, therefore, neither receive) the following information:
- state secrets or any other secrets explicitly protected by law;
- materials from pretrial investigations without the written permission of the prosecutor or an investigator;
- the content of written correspondence or telephone calls without the consent of the person who received the message and the author of the message;
- information that injures the honour and dignity of natural persons and legal persons or slanders them;
- information concerning the state of health of citizens, unless they have provided their consent; and
- business secrets and patent secrets, unless their owners have provided consent.
In a 2019 case, the Supreme Court dealt with the question of the rights of a journalist to receive information about the state budget and its use. The journalist had asked a local municipality to provide data about the use of financial resources in one of its foundations. The municipality refused to provide the requested information, justifying its conduct with confidentiality requirements. The Court emphasised that journalists have a 'great and fundamental impact' since society receives information about matters relevant to each individual from and through the media. Inter alia, the media must give citizens a chance to follow the state's fulfilment of its public functions and how it deals with public funds.27 Therefore, this information had to be disclosed.
Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law28 were made to clarify journalists' rights to obtain information from the materials of a criminal case.29 These amendments provide that journalists may obtain material from criminal proceedings after a reasoned request, but only if this is necessary for public interest. Journalists may analyse material only after the criminal proceedings have concluded.
iv Protection of sources
The Constitution of Latvia does not explicitly recognise the right to source protection. However, this privilege is provided in Article 22 of the Press Law, which states that 'A mass medium may choose to not indicate the source of information . . . For the purpose of protecting vital interests of other persons or the public, only a court, in accordance with the principle of proportionality, may request to produce the source of information.' Additionally, Paragraph 1 of Article 154 of the Criminal Procedure Law indicates a broader understanding of the right to source protection, applying it not only to the mass media but also to journalists and editors. The state authorities are prohibited from arbitrarily interfering with human rights when conducting criminal proceedings. The right to source protection may be restricted only according to the law.
Domestic courts case law also shows that journalists themselves may directly rely on Article 22 of the Press Law and claim the right to source protection.30 However, Latvian law does not provide the right to source protection to persons who are not considered journalists (i.e., those who do not fall under the scope of the institutional definition (see Section III.ii)).
One of the most prominent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) cases dealing with journalists' rights to the protection of sources, where the state police had overstepped its borders – the Nagla case31 – comes from Latvia. However, this situation should not be seen as the norm, but rather an isolated misunderstanding, as there have been no similar matters in recent years.
In 2017, the head of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau wanted to access information acquired by a Latvian magazine; however, the Journalists' Association condemned this action.32
v Private action against publication
Latvian law provides civil remedies against the publishers of unlawful content. While protection against defamation and privacy breaches is provided in the Civil Law (1992),33 the protection of trade secrets is regulated according to the Law On Trade Secret Protection (2019).34
Protection against defamation is enjoyed not only by natural persons but also by legal entities.35 The circumstance that information is false itself is not sufficient for commencing defamation proceedings,36 and the attitude and actions taken since the first appearance of the information in question are also taken into account.37 The remedies offered by the Civil Law are withdrawal of information and payment of non-pecuniary damages. If the content is disseminated by mass media, actions for withdrawal of information must be brought against the disseminator of the information, not the source providing it.38
Defamation is also punishable as a crime under Article 157 of the Criminal Law. Usually, the author him or herself can be held liable for the defamatory content. The only exception is when there is adequate proof of a publisher's intent to harm reputation.39
Regarding trade secrets, the court emphasises the responsibilities of the operators themselves to take reasonable steps for protecting secrets and preventing their disclosure.40 Although detailed argumentation is required, the court holds the right to decide whether information should not be considered and protected as a trade secret.41
vi Government action against publication
In recent years, there have not been any publicly discussed cases regarding governmental attempts to suppress publication, or retaliation against journalists. Article 4 of the Press Law prohibits any interference in the operations of the mass media.
However, a matter of public concern arose in May 2019 when the media regulatory authority NEMMC initiated an administrative case against the private channel TV3, arguing that it had breached its duty to disseminate only true facts.42 As this case was initiated in response to a news broadcast that repeated criticism expressed by the State Audit Office of the work of the NEMMC itself, it seemed that the NEMMC used the rules of the Law on Electronic Media to take revenge for criticism directed against it. After this decision and the underlying motivation were criticised by several ministers,43 the NEMMC terminated the proceedings. This situation has led to debates regarding the potentially censorious nature of NEMMC actions and the Council itself being politically influenced.44
Nevertheless, not all NEMMC media-related decisions can be seen as arbitrary.
Some Russian-connected media entities have expressed the opinion that the prohibition on retransmitting the Rossija RTR channel amounts to censorship;45 however, this NEMMC decision was taken because of repeated expressions of hate speech by the broadcaster.
Government actions against media entities have also assumed particular significance in relation to coverage of the covid-19 pandemic. Misleading information related to the pandemic and nature of the virus has been recognised as being not only inaccurate, but also potentially harmful to public health. One such government action was the NEMMC decision issued at the beginning of 2021 regarding the Pirmais Baltijas Kanāls TV channel. A fine totalling €16,000 was levied on the channel on the basis of two TV shows claiming that covid-19 is not a highly contagious disease. The NEMMC emphasised that the spread of information of this kind must be strictly curtailed as it presents a threat to public health and encourages the public to ignore government-implemented safety measures.46
From another point of view, the government can influence the media without making specific attacks, but rather by inaction (i.e., non-allocation of funds). In 2019, public media, particularly Latvian Radio, declared a financial crisis.47 Without sufficient budgetary resources, investigative work and the creation of new content cannot continue and there is a risk that the Latvian public media sector will start to collapse.48 Many participants believe this issue must be resolved at the highest political levels.
However, during the covid-19 crisis in the first half of 2020, the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEMMC) reported that it was providing a wide range of financial support for commercial TV49 and media for national minorities.50 The financial support was aimed towards supporting news and other information broadcasts necessary for raising awareness of pandemic-related state measures and educating the public about covid-19 prevention. Although the support has continued during 2021, with an emphasis on media in the Latgale region,51 it is arguable whether this support is sufficient to resolve any of the sector's major financial issues.
i Copyright and related rights
The Latvian copyright regime generally corresponds to the regime provided under the Berne Convention. In Latvia, copyright does not need to be registered; nor does it depend on the fulfilment of any other formality to be effective. Copyright arises automatically upon creation of work once it is fixed in a material form, regardless of whether it has been completed. Neighbouring rights also do not require any formalities to be valid. The rights protected under the Latvian copyright regime can be divided into economic and moral rights.
The most notable divergence between Latvian legislation and the Berne Convention is with regard to the term of copyright. As a general rule, copyright is valid until the death of the author and 70 years after his or her death. However, for authors whose works were prohibited in Latvia or the use of which was restricted from June 1940 to May 1990, the years of prohibition or restriction are excluded from the term of the copyright.
Recent changes to Latvia's regulation were made to comply with EU Directive 2017/1564;52 specifically, amendments to the Copyright Law in 2013 and 2018 include permission to make and distribute copies in a customised format without the permission of, or payment to, an author in the interests of persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled.
ii Personality rights
Article 96 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to respect for their private life. In accordance with ECtHR case law, this right also includes the right of an individual to determine whether or how he or she would like his or her identity to be commercialised.53 However, Latvian law does not explicitly provide for the right of a person to object to the commercialisation of his or her image.
The grounds for opposing activities of this kind arise from the Personal Data Processing Law. Publishing a photo is data processing and must be done in accordance with this Law (i.e., with a legitimate reason for the processing). If there is no such legitimate reason (e.g., the data subject has not given consent or the processing is not based on a contract between both sides), the person whose image has been commercialised has the rights to turn, at first, to the infringer and then to the Data State Inspectorate. In any case, the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression will be balanced, inter alia, on the basis of ECtHR case law.
In 2017, a second-hand clothing store network carried out an advertising campaign in women's magazines in Latvia featuring photos of several famous persons without their consent. As a result, the individuals, without their knowledge, became the faces of second-hand clothing advertising.54 Not only does an act of this kind infringe upon the right to use one's own image, but it can damage a person's reputation by causing moral harm. In this situation, the individuals had the right both to stop the use of their image and to claim compensation for the non-material damage suffered.
In 2019, the name of a popular theatre director was used in advertisements for cryptocurrency trading programs.55 The advertisements contained the confusing statement 'It is all over for Mr X'. Although the director expressed his outrage in social media, it is not known whether he pursued any legal remedy against the advertiser.
iii Unfair business practices
Most cases involving unfair business practice in Latvia have been infringements of personality rights or clickbait articles the content of which, in most cases, is fake news. In light of this, the Centre of Investigative Journalism, Re:Baltica, created a blacklist of fake news generators with three categories of false information found in Latvia:56
- fake news and disinformation;
- clickbait news with intriguing 'You will never believe what happened afterwards'-type headlines; and
- news with a political orientation.
Under all categories, Re:Baltica provides examples and explanations regarding the well-known Latvian internet sites. This list should help internet users to understand whether they can trust published information.
Fighting these websites is a tough challenge because there are not always legal grounds for doing so. To date, there has only been one case of the police stopping the publication of fake news: in 2018, criminal proceedings were initiated against the owner of several websites who intentionally published fake news about subjects who are important to the citizens of Latvia. Where fake news is seen as infringing the personal rights of an individual, it should be possible to initiate a private action against the infringing publication.
An interesting case concerned a false attribution of fake news. The news broadcaster TV3 had created a news story in which it explained to viewers the necessity of rechecking the news because stories can be false and defamatory. In addition to the use of images from multiple Facebook sites, which should have been recognised as fake news distribution channels, TV3 inserted a screenshot of the Rīta Kafija Facebook page, which had not posted any falsifications. However, by connecting this news broadcast with other fake news sites, the channel made viewers think that Rīta Kafija is a source of fake news.
The defendant did not provide any evidence that the news site ritakafija.lv had ever circulated any false information, fiction, rumours or defamation. Therefore, the Court ordered TV3 to retract this news story without delay.57
Outside the digital world, there has been a dispute that could also be considered an example of unfair business practices. In 2018, J K Rowling's agent pointed out that there should be no Latvian-translated Harry Potter books in Latvian bookshops because the term of the licence of the Latvian publisher, Jumava, had ended. However, the bookshops were still full of the author's books, which were still being bought by fans. A competing publishing house was thus economically hindered from publishing the translated books, despite an offer to do so from the agent.58
While debating how to resolve this matter, it was concluded that the Copyright and Communications Consulting Agency/Authors' Union of Latvia (AKKA/LAA)59 deals only with the reuse of works and, therefore, had no right to intervene in the situation. Publishing houses organise translation and book publishing rights themselves; this was, therefore, a matter between the two publishers. Whether there will be legal proceedings will depend on the steps taken by J K Rowling's agent, but there has been no news regarding any legal action as yet.60 Moreover, this dispute has recently ceased to appear in the media, suggesting that a solution has been found without any court interference.
In light of these events, the Association of Latvian Book Publishers had to assess whether Jumava should be allowed to be a participant at national stands at big industry events focused on the foreign market. The Association came to the conclusion that there was no legal basis for rejecting Jumava's participation in the London Book Fair, but rather that the objection was of an ethical nature.61 On 26 November 2019, new publications of Harry Potter books started being sold by the competing publishing house that had been approached by the agent, Zvaigzne ABC.62
Competition and consumer rights
The general Latvian merger control framework applies to the technology, media and telecommunications sector. The Competition Council must be notified about every merger and provisions on market participant mergers can be found in the Competition Law; mergers are considered to be transactions that result in the acquisition of influence in another undertaking, or even only acquisition of the assets of a company or the right to use them. Specific rules apply to electronic mass media, which state that they may not abuse their dominant position. Within the meaning of the LEMM, a dominant position is created when the market share of an electronic mass medium in a particular Latvian market exceeds 35 per cent.
One of the leading cases of 2019 was the cooperation between two telecommunications providers, Bite and Tele2, which established a common company for the development of 5G networks. This cooperation is being scrutinised by the competition authorities.
In September 2019, telecommunications company Bite announced that it had signed a purchase contract to acquire cable TV company Baltcom.63 As a result of this, the company would be able to provide not only mobile communication services and information and communications technology solutions, but also home internet and a variety of TV channels. In February 2020, the Competition Council cleared the merger. The merger affected a wide range of markets:
- the market for phone services in a fixed communications network;
- the market for internet connection and data transmission services;
- the retail market for pay TV programme distribution; and
- the wholesale market for TV programme distribution.64
In autumn 2020, Baltcom acquired Dautkom TV, which operates in the area of internet provision and television retail. The merger was notable because Dautkom provided services in the Latgale region, in which Baltcom (owned by Bite) did not previously provide services. However, the merger did not give rise to broad public discussion as the Competition Council determined that it had no serious impact on competition.65
No new mergers in the media and telecommunications sector have been announced in 2021; however, a tendency towards concentration of service provision can still be observed.
ii Consumer protection
The CRPC is active in protecting the rights of consumers on all digital media. Retail websites are under particular scrutiny. Most concerns relate to the lack of information or problems with information being understandable (i.e., in the national language).
In the field of entertainment, in 2019, the CRPC signed a memorandum with the Ministry of Economy, the Latvian Event Producers' Association and industry merchants with the goal of eradicating unfair commercial practices in the organisation of events and ticket purchasing. The CRPC provides information to the industry regarding cases of unfair commercial practice and industry members are then able to stop any cooperation with an offending merchant. This can be seen as a good example of a state institution that chooses cooperation rather than penalties only.
An interesting decision with long-reaching consequences relates to the amendments to the Consumer Protection Law, which prohibit public broadcasting institutions from gaining any income from advertising connected to consumer loans. The amendments were intended to protect consumers from hot-headed borrowing that might put them in financial difficulty. However, in addition to other factors, these amendments have contributed to the very poor financial situation of the public media.66
A subject of growing discussion during 2021 has been the development of a regulatory framework for social media celebrities and influencers in the area of advertising. During the first half of 2021, CRPC organised monitoring of marketing activities in social media. The CRPC has concluded that some influencers did not properly inform their followers that some posts were of commercial nature and were published on the basis of a paid partnership. As a result, two Latvian influencers were fined €1,500 and €1,000 respectively.67
iii Net neutrality
To meet the requirements of the Regulation on Open Internet Access,68 the General Authorisation Regulations in the Electronic Communications Sector entered into force on 1 January 2019. The Regulations control:
- the sending of registration or termination notifications regarding activities of electronic communications merchants;
- the prevention of violations of the General Authorisation Regulations; and
- the discontinuation of the provision of electronic communications networks or the provision of electronic communications services in cases of violations.
The rules regulate connection speeds in more detail than that found in the Regulation on Open Internet Access.
The Regulator ensures compliance with the principles of the open internet and, therefore, monitors the compliance of the internet service provided by merchants with the requirements of the Regulation. The Regulator's quality report for electronic communications services for 2018 concludes that to ensure open internet requirements monitoring, the Regulator:
- sets minimum quality requirements for internet service;
- provides technical supervision of quality of services;
- analyses user complaints; and
- conducts merchant surveys on the compliance of operations with the requirements of the Regulation on Open Internet Access.
Additionally, internet websites may be registered as mass media to acquire the journalistic privileges provided in the Press Law. However, even if a website is not registered as mass media, the restrictions provided in the Press Law might still apply if, in its activities, the website is identical to a mass media provider, as established by the Supreme Court in 2012.71 Therefore, websites could theoretically be prosecuted for the distribution of fake news. In practice, this judge-made-law has only been applied regarding defamation.
Deliberate publishing of disinformation is recognised as hooliganism under the Criminal Law. One of most recent cases still pending relates to criminal proceedings against the owner of a website who knowingly published disinformation and disseminated it on social media.72 No proceedings were initiated against any of the social media platforms used for spreading the information, as there were no grounds for action; however, the question regarding the fight against fake news websites is brought to light every couple of months.
Since 2018, the owners of electronic media have a new obligation to disclose the ultimate beneficial owners of legal persons. This obligation is carried out within the process of obtaining a broadcasting and retransmission authorisation. In this way, the state tries to control the Latvian information space and to protect it from propaganda.
Another growing concern during 2021 has been the illegal broadcasting of television via the internet. In early 2021, NEMMC identified 48 websites that had carried out broadcasting of one or more TV channels without receiving authorisation from the relevant media entitity. Furthermore, only eight websites ceased their actions after receiving a warning from NEMMC. Accordingly, seven new court proceedings were initiated, 35 websites were blocked and five websites were given a set period in which to obtain the licences necessary for their operation.73
Many contractual disputes are solved between the parties themselves. If an issue cannot be solved in this way, it may be brought before the court. The procedure for adjudication of civil cases, including licensing disputes, royalty disputes, supplier–distributor disputes, contractual disputes with artists and performers and other disputes is specified in the Civil Procedure Law (1998)74 and the Law On Judicial Power (1992).75 Chapter 3 of the Civil Procedure Law determines which court is to be served with the documents for the settlement of a civil dispute, while Chapter 4 sets out the exact amount of expenses, the principles for determining expenses, the reimbursement of legal costs and the exemptions from payment.
Most of the publicly debated contractual disputes in Latvia so far have been connected to intellectual property rights.
An interesting decision was taken in 2017 by the Supreme Court. The Court stated that the copyright of films produced by Riga Film Studio during the Soviet era is owned neither by the state nor the film studio. Copyright belonging to legal persons had ceased to exist in 1993 with the Latvian legislature's failure to adopt a law that would ensure the continued existence of these rights. The rights of authors – individual persons whose creative work resulted in the production of the films mentioned above – continue to exist and protection of these rights can be implemented according to general procedures.76 This decision solved decades-long debates on these rights.
The activities of the AKKA/LAA, which has filed several complaints against the media regarding unauthorised use of copyrighted music and other materials, are also noteworthy. In 2015, the AKKA/LAA won a case against Latvian Television (LTV), recovering €644,732 for copyright infringement and damage.77 In 2019, however, the Supreme Court annulled the judgment of the Riga Regional Court, which upheld the claim of the AKKA/LAA against the foreign merchant Viasat AS for copyright damages, copyright infringement and a ban on the use of copyright works.78 This case is currently being reviewed again in the court of appeals.
Year in review
Developments in the fields of media and entertainment from 2018 to 2021 emphasise the connection between both sectors and digitalisation, as the following examples show.
The NEMMC has started a major screening of internet sites to reveal illegal channels that disseminate illegal content in Latvia. On the basis of the newly amended LEMM, the NEMMC has the right to limit access to websites that retransmit audiovisual programmes without receiving a retransmission permit. The first administrative procedures based on these rules were initiated in August 2019. As noted above, during 2021 alone, the NEMMC discovered 48 internet sites broadcasting TV channels without the relevant permits, providing grounds for several court proceedings.
On 12 April 2018, the NEMMC unanimously adopted the National Media Strategy for the Electronic Media Sector for 2018 to 2022.79 The new Strategy foresees the creation of a single public media platform with a strong digital presence, uniting the national public-service radio broadcaster Latvian Radio, LTV and the Latvian Public Media website, lsm.lv (and with all three companies collaborating on the creation of content).
During 2020 the NEMMC issued several administrative fines to TV and radio broadcasters in relation to covert agitation for political parties during the Riga City Council emergency election period. The fines varied between €10,000 and €15,000. The NEMMC has announced that it plans to implement severe punishments now and also going forward.80
In the course of 2021, the CRPC monitored social media celebrities and influencers and discovered several cases of non-compliance with the advertising regulatory framework. This resulted in several warnings and the imposition of monetary fines of up to €1,500. In July 2019, All Media Baltics, the largest media group in the Baltic countries, and Atende Software entered into a multi-jurisdictional cooperation agreement for the launch of the next generation of over-the-top platform services across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The new service will feature the widest range of local and international sports and entertainment content in the Baltics, including live TV channels, news, premium sports, original films and series, and exclusive access for subscribers to All Media Baltics' flagship TV shows on smartphones, tablets, Android set-top boxes and smart TVs.81
However, on the other side of the coin, the Latvian public media announced in 2019 that it was in crisis and that the situation in the public media sector will deteriorate without action to provide sufficient financing. Disagreements between Latvian Radio's employees and its board are an example of the problematic situation within the public media sector,82 proving that attention must be paid to financial and organisational issues.
Financing-related issues have become even more relevant during 2020 because of the covid-19 pandemic. State financial support has been provided to several media industry entities to decrease the financial consequences of the virus and also involve the media in the organisation of covid-19 preventive measures and education of the general public. This financial support continued throughout 2021; however, it remains to be seen whether it will be sufficient for the media to overcome the financial obstacles it faces.
As the period from 2019 to 2021 has been a time of crises in public media in terms of finance, cooperation with the NEMMC and internal conflict, it is clear that policymakers need to actively work on this issue. Without strong public media and with fabrications distributed by both fake news websites and propaganda channels, the independence and integrity of the state may also be endangered. Therefore, there is a need to establish the public media's financial independence, especially after it has left the advertising market. The public media budget must not be connected to the political party in power. The competence of the NEMMC and of other institutions must be better divided. Some of these ideas are already included in draft laws and it is hoped that the situation will improve. However, only the coming year will show how the plans will look in practice.
From another perspective, even more developments in 5G technologies are expected in coming years. Since the end of 2019, local telecommunications service providers have actively built 5G network towers. The implementation of a 5G network has also been publicly supported by the government, evidencing that Latvia is interested in moving towards being one of the first countries to use the full potential of opportunities offered by 5G technologies. There are expected to be 100 5G internet broadcasting towers deployed in Latvian territory by the end of 2021.83 Additionally, the field of entertainment will become even more diverse. Currently, Latvia boasts a variety of theatres, concert venues and other entertainment facilities, all affordable to citizens. This breadth of choice in the sector has grown markedly in recent years. However, the challenge is to ensure the balance of development and opportunity throughout Latvia, not only in the capital city of Riga.
This has become an even bigger challenge because of the severe effects of the covid-19 pandemic: theatres and concert venues have suffered considerable financial losses during 2020, causing public concern and raising questions regarding the likely quality of their operations in future. As noted above, although financial support increased during 2021, it remains debatable whether this will be enough to enable the sector to surmount its financial difficulties.
1 Gunvaldis Leitens is a legal assistant and Andris Taurinš is a partner at Sorainen. The authors express their gratitude to Madara Melnika, Erika Bužinska and Krista Niklase for their help in the research process.
3 15 February 1922. Latvijas Vestnesis (Official Gazette). Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/57980-the-constitution-of-the-republic-of-latvia.
4 20 December 1990. Zinotajs (Official Gazette). Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/id/64879-on-the-press-and-other-mass-media.
5 11 August 2010. Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/214039-electronic-mass-media-law.
6 Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2010, available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:32010L0013.
7 28 October 2004. Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/96611-electronic-communications-law.
9 1 December 2004. Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/96619-law-on-information-society-services.
12 19 October 2000. Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/id/12483-on-regulators-of-public-utilities.
13 'On the compliance of Article 271 of the Criminal Law with Articles 91 and 100 of the Constitution'. Constitutional Court of Latvia, case No. 2003-05-01, 29 October 2003, Point 31.
14 'On the compliance of Article 19(5) of the Radio and Television Law with Articles 89, 91, 100 and 114 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, Articles 10 and 14 in conjunction with Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Articles 19 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights'. Constitutional Court of Latvia, case No. 2003-02-0106, 5 June 2003, Point 3.
15 'On the compliance of Article 33 of the Law on Pre-Election Campaigns Before Local Government Elections with Article 100 of the Constitution'. Constitutional Court of Latvia, case No. 2009-45-01, 22 February 2010.
16 'On the compliance of Article 271 of the Criminal Law with Articles 91 and 100 of the Constitution'. Constitutional Court of Latvia, case No. 2003-05-01, 29 October 2003, Point 22.
18 Petrova, A, 'NEPLP aizliedz retranslet “Rossija RTR” Latvijas teritorija', Latvian Public Media, 31 January 2019, www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/neplp-aizliedz-retranslet-rossija-rtr-latvijas-teritorija.a307935/.
19 NEPLP uz gadu aizliedz retranslet “Rossija RTR” Latvijas teritorija, 8 February 2021, available at https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/neplp-uz-gadu-aizliedz-retranslet-%E2%80%9Crossija-rtr%E2%80%9D-latvijas-teritorija.html.
21 22 November 2007. Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/id/167759-unfair-commercial-practices-prohibition-law.
22 Court decision of City of Riga Latgale District Court in case No. C29776714, 27 January 2016, available at https://manas.tiesas.lv/eTiesasMvc/nolemumi/pdf/266270.pdf.
23 Cabinet of Ministers Regulation No. 368 'Procedures on Flights of Unmanned Aircraft or Movement of Other Types of Airship', available at https://likumi.lv/ta/id/308732-kartiba-kada-veicami-bezpilota-gaisa-kugu-un-cita-veida-lidaparatu-lidojumi.
25 5 July 2018. Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/300099-personal-data- processing-law.
26 Barisa-Sermule, L, 'Aizbildinoties ar jauno datu aizsardzibas regulu, cenšas ietekmet žurnalistus', Latvian Public Media, 21 May 2018, available at www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/aizbildinoties-ar-jauno-datu-aizsardzibas-regulu-censas-ietekmet-zurnalistus.a279188/; Data State Inspectorate, 27 September 2016, available at https://lvportals.lv/e-konsultacijas/10239-personas- dati-jaapstrada-godpratigi-likumigi-un-atbilstosi-merkim-2016; Grinvalde-Iruka, A, 'Ar datu aizsardzibu joprojam parspile', Aluksniesiem, 14 March 2019, available at www.aluksniesiem.lv/vietejas-zinas/latvijas-zinas/ar-datu-aizsardzibu-joprojam-parspile-129268.
28 Article 3751.
32 'LŽA: Izmeklešanas iestadem pilna mera jarespekte žurnalistu avotu aizsardziba', Diena, 05 July 2017, available at www.diena.lv/raksts/latvija/zinas/lza-izmeklesanas-iestadem-pilna-mera-jarespekte-zurnalistu-avotu-aizsardziba-14175711.
34 1 April 2019, available at https://likumi.lv/ta/id/305532-komercnoslepuma-aizsardzibas-likums.
42 'NEPLP sakusi administrativo lietu pret “TV3”', LA.lv, 3 May 2019, available at www.la.lv/neplp-sakusi-administrativo-lietu-pret-tv3.
43 For example, 'Rinkevics: Pec NEPLP veršanas pret TV3 jaizverte izmainas mediju uzrauga darba', Apollo, 4 May 2019, available at www.apollo.lv/6675496/rinkevics-pec-neplp-versanas-pret-tv3-jaizverte-izmainas-mediju-uzrauga-darba.
44 Kupcs, E, 'Žurnalistu asociacija par NEPLP un kritisko situaciju mediju vide sudzesies EBU', Latvian Public Media, 16 May 2019, available at www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/zurnalistu-asociacija-par-neplp-un-kritisko-situaciju-mediju-vide-sudzesies-ebu.a319236/.
45 'VGTRK: Latvija no mums pieprasa iepriekšeju tieša etera cenzuru', Sputnik News, 1 February 2019, available at https://sputniknewslv.com/Latvia/20190201/10810370/Neplp-aizliedz-rossija-rtr-ep-velesanu-prieksvakara.html.
46 'NEPLP konstate nepatiesas informacijas izplatišanu “Pirmaja Baltijas Kanala”', 2 March 2021, available at https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/neplp-konstate- nepatiesas-informacijas-izplatisanu-%E2%80%9Cpirmaja-baltijas-kanala%E2%80%9D.html.
48 'Žurnalistu asociacijas vaditaja cel trauksmi – mediju ekonomiskie modeli grust', Latvian Public Media, 11 April 2019, available at www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/zurnalistu-asociacijas-vaditaja-cel-trauksmi-- mediju-ekonomiskie-modeli-grust.a325278/.
49 'Krizes parvarešanai NEPLP pieškir 100 000 eiro komerctelevizijam',14 May 2020, available at https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/krizes-parvaresanai-neplp- pieskir-100-000-eiro-komerctelevizijam.html.
50 'NEPLP: krizes apstaklos regionalie un mazakumtautibu TV un radio sanems 237 000 eiro valsts atbalstu', 28 April 2020, available at https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/neplp-krizes-apstaklos-regionalie-un-mazakumtautibu-tv-un-radio-sanems-237-000-eiro-valsts- atbalstu.html.
51 NEPLP pieškir gandriz 17 tukstošus eiro papildu finansejumu vietejo raidijumu veidošanai Latgales televizijas un radio, 7 July 2021, available at: https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes- sedes/sedes-sadalas/gandriz-17-tukstosus-eiro-papildu-etejo-raidijumu-veidosanai-latgales-televizijas-un-radio.html.
52 Directive (EU) 2017/1564 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 13 September 2017, on certain permitted uses of certain works and other subject matter protected by copyright and related rights for the benefit of persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled, and amending Directive 2001/29/EC on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society, available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32017L1564&from=LV.
53 ECtHR, Reklos and Davourlis v. Greece, available at http://at.gov.lv/files/files/reklos-un-davourlispret-griekiju-15042009.docx.
54 'Sabiedribas damas, pašam to nezinot, reklame uznemuma “Humana” drebes', Delfi, 26 May 2013, available at www.delfi.lv/bizness/biznesa_vide/sabiedribas-damas-pasam-to-nezinot-reklame-uznemuma-humana-drebes.d?id=43347103.
55 '“Alvim viss ir beidzies” režisora Alvja Hermana vardu nelietigi izmanto meligas kriptovalutas reklamas', Jauns, 11 May 2019, available at https://jauns.lv/raksts/zinas/330763-alvim-viss-ir-beidzies-rezisora-alvja-hermana-vardu-nelietigi-izmanto-meligas-kriptovalutas-reklamas.
56 Žilde-Krevica, K, Vilcans, R M, 'Viltus zinas. Tu nekad neticesi, kas notika pec tam . . .', Re:Baltica, 20 August 2018, available at https://rebaltica.lv/2018/08/tu-nekad-neticesi-kas-notika-pec-tam/; black list: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HMTYCxlqFtaAW3v_QfDWvJbdKdOs1-8sz3eQ2xiVhWM/edit.
57 Judgment of City of Riga Vidzeme District Court, Case Archive No. C-1849-18/5, available at https://manas.tiesas.lv/eTiesasMvc/nolemumi/pdf/355193.pdf.
58 'Zvaigzne ABC: Harija Potera gramatu tirgošana Latvija ir nelicenceta', Diena, 2 February 2018, available at www.diena.lv/raksts/latvija/zinas/_zvaigzne-abc_-harija-potera-gramatu-tirgosana-latvija-irnelicenceta-14190267.
60 'Zvaigzne ABC: Harija Potera gramatu tirgošana Latvija ir nelicenceta', Diena, 2 February 2018, available at www.diena.lv/raksts/latvija/zinas/_zvaigzne-abc_-harija-potera-gramatu-tirgosana-latvija-ir-nelicenceta-14190267.
61 'Potera skandala del apdraudeta “Jumavas” daliba Londonas gramatu izstade', Jauns, 13 February 2018, available at https://jauns.lv/raksts/zinas/269795-potera-skandala-del-apdraudeta-jumavas-daliba-londonas-gramatu-izstade.
62 'Latvija klaja nak jauns Harija Potera gramatu seriju izdevums', LSM.lv, 3 October 2019, available at www.lsm.lv/raksts/dzive--stils/vecaki-un-berni/latvija-klaja-nak-jauns-harija-potera-gramatu-seriju-izdevums.a333957/.
64 Competition Council decision No. 4, 20 February 2020, available at: https://www.kp.gov.lv/files/documents/KP_lemums_Bite_publiskojama.pdf.
65 Competition Council decision No. 15, 23 October 2020, available at: https://lemumi.kp.gov.lv/files/documents/20201026_KP_L%C4%93mums_Baltcom_Dautkom.pdf.
66 'Aicina atbalstit priekšlikumus LR un sabiedrisko mediju situacijas stabilizešanai', NEMMC, 14 August 2019, available at https://lvportals.lv/dienaskartiba/307044-aicina-atbalstit-priekslikumus-lr-un-sabiedrisko-mediju-situacijas-stabilizesanai-2019.
67 PTAC konstate negodigu komercpraksi influenceru darbiba, 25 May 2021, available at: https://www.ptac.gov.lv/lv/jaunums/ptac-konstate-negodigu-komercpraksi-influenceru-darbiba.
68 Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2015.
70 Directive (EU) 2019/770 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2019 on certain aspects concerning contracts for the supply of digital content and digital services, available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/LV/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32019L0770&from=EN.
72 'Lietu par viltus zinu portalu uzturešanu nodod tiesai', Delfi, 18 July 2019, available at www.delfi.lv/news/national/criminal/lietu-par-viltus-zinu-portalu-uzturesanu-nodod-tiesai.d?id=51289067.
73 NEPLP pern 48 majaslapas konstatejusi prettiesisku televizijas programmu retranslaciju, šogad janvari saktas jau 7 jaunas lietvedibas, 17 February 2021, available at: https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/ sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/neplp-pern-48-majaslapas-konstatejusi-prettiesisku- televizijas-programmu-r.html.
74 14 October 1998, Latvijas Vestnesis. Available at www.likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/50500-civil-procedure-law.
76 Supreme Court of Latvia, case No. SKC-69/17.
77 Žukova, K, 'LTV sanems pusmiljonu eiro, lai segtu zaudejumus strida par autortiesibu parkapumu', Delfi, 21 March 2017, available at www.delfi.lv/news/national/politics/ltv-sanems-pusmiljonu-eiro-lai-segtu-zaudejumus-strida-par-autortiesibu-parkapumu.d?id=48647927.
78 Tomsone, D, 'AKKA/LAA ar “TV Play Baltics” tiesajas par autoru darbu satelita apraidi', Delfi, 19 August 2019, available at www.delfi.lv/news/national/politics/akkalaa-ar-tv-play-baltics-tiesajas- par-autoru-darbu-satelita-apraidi.d?id=51380969&fbclid=IwAR3vgo5-RYIPGS6tHnS4Mxw3_ 1OMwWZRu76XgtZaKOPDjIAffBUi5nHqJ5k.
79 The National Media Strategy for the Electronic Media Sector for 2018 to 2022, available at https://neplpadome.lv/lv/assets/documents/Normativie%20Akti/Strategija/EPL%20strate%CC%84g%CC%A7ija_120418.pdf.
80 'Par sleptu priekšvelešanu agitaciju NEPLP ar 10 500 eiro soda “RigaTV 24”', available at https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/par-sleptu-prieksvelesanu-agitaciju-neplp-ar-10-500-eiro-soda-%E2%80%9Crigatv-24%E2%80%9D.html; 'Par sleptu priekšvelešanu agitaciju NEPLP ar 11 400 eiro soda “Baltkom radio”', available at https://www.neplpadome.lv/lv/sakums/padome/padomes-sedes/sedes-sadalas/par-sleptu-prieksvelesanu-agitaciju-neplp-ar-11-400-eiro-soda-%E2%80%9Cbaltkom-radio%E2%80%9D.html.
81 'All Media Baltics chooses red Galaxy for their next generation OTT platform', available at https://allmediabaltics.eu/newsstream/all-media-baltics-chooses-redgalaxy-for-their-next-generation- ott-platform/.
82 'Latvijas Radio Zinu dienests izsaka neuzticibu radio valdei', Latvian Public Media, 10 July 2019, available at www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/latvijas-radio-zinu-dienests-izsaka-neuzticibu-radio-valdei.a325190/#3.
83 'LMT šogad uzstadis 100 5G bazes stacijas', Dienas bizness, 8 September 2021, available at https://www.db.lv/zinas/lmt-sogad-uzstadis-100-5g-bazes-stacijas-504387.