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17th Dec 2017

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EU to relax online shopping, but not film or music

  • Proposal does not lift limitations on films or music across the EU (Photo: newyorkpass.com)

The European Commission on Wednesday (25 May) came out with a set of proposals that aim to ease access to online services and goods for customers across the EU.

However, the commission did not fully ban what is called geo-blocking, a practice in which companies treat consumers using the same service differently depending on their location. It also left all audiovisual copyright content, such as films, music and online games out of the scope of the proposal.

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The commission last December proposed the idea of “portability”, meaning, for instance, that a Belgian consumer could access their Netflix video-on-demand account while visiting, say, Germany.

The portability model, if adopted by EU parliament and member states, will only let customers access the Netflix content available in their home country. It would not have given them open access to Netflix content in all EU states.

The proposal presented on Wednesday does not lift the limitations imposed by online services to access films or music across the EU either.

Providers of copyright content said that prices in each country are set to its relative purchasing power. They were concerned that customers would migrate to platforms were the film or music was the cheapest.

The commission’s proposal does ban discrimination while buying from online retailers based in a different place than the customer’s home country. It would also outlaw automatic redirection to the retailer’s local online store.

It would let, for instance, a Belgian consumer buy items from a Polish online retailer at Polish prices, but the customer would have to arrange their own delivery.

In an another attempt to ease cross-border online shopping, the proposal would require traders to more readily accept bank cards issued in different EU countries.

The EU’s digital affairs commissioner Andrus Ansip told journalists on Wednesday that the bill was a compromise.

"We will start with tangible goods, services that are consumed locally, like car rental, hotel rooms, and after 2018 it will include data clouds, data warehousing, and hopefully soon we will be able to deal with audiovisual content," he said.

"I would like to reach concrete aims, thats why I am ready for compromises," he added.

The former prime minister of Estonia, a leading country in online services, has repeatedly said he “hates geo-blocking”.

He said on Wednesday that it would have to be dismantled “step-by-step” but promised further action “very soon”.

EU sources said Ansip had wanted to already include online copyright material, but the German EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger, who shares the digital portfolio, and the copyright lobby blocked him.

The liberalisation of cloud services, data warehousing and website hosting was delayed until mid-2018 to help the sector prepare for changes.

20 percent rule

The commission also on Wednesday unveiled rules that would require video-on-demand sites, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, to introduce a 20-percent quota for European content in their streaming services.

"The quota is pretty close to the already existing average, it is not a big news to service providers,” Ansip said. He said the quota would “enrich” the “choice of films” for EU nationals.

European films account for 21 percent of Netflix's catalogue.

According to the proposal, EU countries could force streaming services to help fund the production of European TV shows and movies.

They would force websites such as YouTube to introduce stronger age barriers for young viewers and to crack down on hate speech.

The commission also wants to replace the current limit of 12 minutes of advertising per hour to a smaller daily limit.

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