The UK government is investigating a dispute over copyright that could lead to the closure of several major UK online services.
It comes after an online media firm and several other companies were ordered to close their sites in December after complaints that the companies were using the services to collect data from customers without permission.
The move comes after UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she would consider the move to ensure UK internet services were “free from copyright infringement”.
“The Government will be considering a number of measures to ensure that UK internet companies operate in a free and open way that protects consumers’ rights,” a spokeswoman said.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) ruled that some online services could be subject to compulsory licenses for the sharing of information, including metadata.
The regulator also ordered the providers of social media and video platforms to stop using the sites to collect personal information.
The CMA’s ruling said the services were not required to pay licensing fees, but the regulator said it was concerned the companies could face legal action if they continued to collect such data.
The watchdog said it would “continue to monitor the situation and take further action if there is any evidence of unlawful activity”.
The watchdog also said the CMA had no jurisdiction to determine whether a particular company was violating copyright law, nor could it give advice on whether to impose a licence or terminate a licence.
The decision came as it emerged that an online video service that provides a tool to users to help them report copyright infringement had received an order to close.
The BBC said that it had received a request from the copyright watchdog to investigate a complaint about the online video site Vimeo, which was based in the US.
The company had been the subject of a complaint by the National Copyright Information Centre (NCIC), which is based in London.
The NCIC said Vimeo had “failed to protect the rights of its users to access copyrighted works”.
The BBC was unable to independently verify the NCIC complaint.
The complaint was filed by the NCAIC, a British anti-piracy group, and the British Digital Alliance, a trade association for digital content.
The NCAic’s complaint accused Vimeo of collecting the IP addresses of users who visited the site and transmitting them to a company called DataBreach, which had a licence to collect IP addresses.
The video company, which operates a website called vimeo.com, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling was welcomed by the digital rights organisation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which said the decision “will be an important milestone in the fight against online copyright infringement and the lack of fair and transparent rules in the UK.”
“Vimeo has been a strong supporter of digital rights for years and has been fighting the battle against the unlawful sharing of user data for decades,” said EFF UK chief executive Matt Blaze.
“Vidya is proud to be the first US-based online video platform to be given a licence by the UK regulator.”
The BBC reported that the CMB said it had contacted Vimeo about the ruling and the company said it hoped it would take it up with the UK watchdog.
“We are confident that the UK government will be fair and reasonable in its approach to the matter,” said a spokesperson for Vimeo.