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19th Aug 2017

Focus

People gain right to use online content EU-wide

  • The content you have access to at home, should also be available in other EU countries, new rules regulate (Photo: Netflix)

EU citizens will have access to the same films and music they have a subscription to at home, when travelling to another EU country, representatives of the European Parliament and national governments agreed on Tuesday (7 February).

Negotiators of the deal, which will need to be rubber stamped by the parliament and the Council, where member states meet, said both sides accepted the goal of the original proposal, tabled by the European Commission in December 2015.

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“There's not been a major battle,” a Commission source told EUobserver on condition of anonymity.

The deal was reached in so-called trilogue meetings between representatives of the institutions. The final text of the compromise is still subject to scrutiny of legal experts, and is not expected to be made public before Friday.

The new rules will allow EU citizens that subscribe to an online service, like Netflix or Spotify, to have the same catalogue from home available in other EU countries. The commission calls it portability of online content.

Currently, access is restricted through a principle known as geo-blocking - the unavailability of content based on a user's geographical location.

Tech-savvy consumers use a virtual private network (VPN) to fool the service provider into thinking they are in another geographical place.

“Let's be realistic about the situation we have today,” said the commission source.

“If they travel, people in certain cases use VPN to get access to stuff they already bought at home … We need a situation where people feel comfortable enough to pay for content.”

A second commission source said that the new legislation is “reasonable”, and gave the example of a French citizen who is temporarily in Belgium.

“It is very difficult to imagine that a person in a hotel room, if he had not had portability, would have subscribed for a Belgian service just for one day when they are here on business.”

German Green MEP Julia Reda agreed with the commission that the essence of the proposal had not changed.

Instead, the compromise deal included new details that Reda said would increase “safeguards for data protection”.

Companies offering content would need to check what member state is a user's home state.

The first commission source noted this is done just once, when the contract with the provider is signed.

“The data is not kept,” he said.

Reda said some language had been tweaked to make sure the rules could not be circumvented by service providers who wanted to continue geo-blocking practices.

She also said that the proposal itself was fine, but that it would not fully end geo-blocking for many Europeans.

Irrelevant rule for 26 percent

Only EU citizens who travel abroad will benefit from it.

According to the most recently published Eurobarometer survey on travel, 26 percent of EU citizens do not travel at all.

The question was: “During 2015, how many times did you travel for professional or personal reasons where you were away from home for a minimum of one night?”

The countries with the most people who did not travel were Malta (43 percent), Portugal (42 percent), Romania (40 percent). In nine EU countries at least 30 percent of the population did not travel that year.

Non-travelling EU citizens would perhaps have liked it if the EU had tackled other types of geo-blocking.

“It does not solve the problem that many consumers would like to access TV shows, series or sport events from a foreign provider,” said Johannes Kleis, spokesman of Brussels-based consumer organisation Beuc.

“People who want to access content from a foreign provider - for instance because they belong to a language minority and don't find the content of their choice in their home country - should be allowed to do so."

Reservations aside, Kleis added that Tuesday's deal "is an important step.”

His organisation had sent a press release hailing the deal as “very good news for EU consumers”.

It noted that roaming surcharges, which are slapped on top of phone bills when using the internet in another EU country, will end soon. This will likely increase the number of people who want to watch online content while abroad.

EU countries agree data roaming charges

Mobile operators will be able to charge each other for the use of data by their customers in Europe and to apply a surcharge when too many people use their network.

What digital barriers do Europeans still face?

"Mom! I did something illegal!" - as the EU gets set to unveil its new strategy on liberalising the digital single market, what online barriers do Europeans still face?

EU takes step to end TV 'geo-blocking'

The EU has opened a public review of its two decades old Satellite and Cable Directive, a process which could ultimately lead to media companies being prevented from blocking access to pay-TV services and movies in specific countries.

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