EU consumers of online content services such as Netflix, Spotify or Sky Sports will soon be able to access their subscriptions while on holiday in or when otherwise visiting another Member State, due to the lifting of existing restrictions by a proposed new EU Regulation.
Access to online content had been restricted when consumers travelled outside their Member State of residence, due to a practice known as ‘geo-blocking’. Geo-blocking allowed online content providers to carve the Single Market into individual territories, with separate licensing requirements for each. However, such restrictions are now to be lifted, as agreement on the text of the new Regulation was announced by the European Commission on 7 February 2017.
This measure is one of a series of proposals previously published by the European Commission with a view to moving towards a Digital Single Market, and agreement has now been reached between representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States. Breaking down territorial borders associated with copyright licensing is one of the main aims of the Digital Single Market, as it will lead to better choice and access to content for consumers, and a fairer and more functional market.
‘Cross-border portability’ will be enjoyed by a vast number of EU citizens, with the Commission noting that in 2016, 64% of Europeans used the internet to play or download games, images, films or music. In the digital age and in the context of the Single Market, online content users and ‘millennials’ expect that their subscriptions can be accessed when they travel within the EU and this legislation seeks to meet that expectation.
Online content providers will be able to verify the subscriber’s country of residence by using means such as payment details, the existence of an internet contract or by checking the IP address. All providers who offer paid online content services will have to follow the new rules, which also provide that service providers may not impose additional fees for ‘portability’. Free online content services (such as the online services of public TV or radio broadcasters) will have the choice as to whether they provide portability to their subscribers.
The agreed text must now be formally confirmed by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. Once adopted, the rules will become applicable in all EU Member States by beginning of 2018 as the Regulation grants providers and right holders a 9 month period to prepare for the application of the new rules.