Netflix subscribers across Europe all have access to a different library of films and videos.
The same is true for users of many other streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Instant Video and HBO Go.
This means that paying customers are often unable to use their accounts, or with restrictions, when traveling to other European countries.
These geo-blocking practices have been a thorn in the side of the European Commission who today published a concrete proposal requiring streaming services to ban them.
The proposal, which is the first in EU’s broader copyright reform, requires online services to remove geo-blocking in Europe. This means that Netflix users can access their local content library in any EU member state.
This also includes countries where the service isn’t currently operating. For example, a Swedish HBO subscriber should be able to access his account in Italy, where it’s not available legally.
“We want to ensure the portability of content across borders. People who legally buy content – films, books, football matches, TV series – must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe,” says Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market.
Netflix previously called for an end to all geo-blocking and says it’s happy to provide users with great content wherever they are.
“We’re committed to providing Netflix members with great programming wherever they are and are studying the EU’s proposal,” a Netflix spokesperson informs TF.
While the plans are a positive development for users, copyright holders may be more skeptical. They will have to rewrite their licensing agreements to allow online access to content across borders.
According to the EU Commission many people already try to bypass geo-restrictions through VPN services. Under the new proposal, this is no longer needed.
Ironically, the changes may not always be beneficial. In some cases people use a VPN to access a broader library of films and video in another EU country, which will no longer be possible under the new rules.
In addition, Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda points out that the proposal only fixes part of the problem. People who are in countries where Netflix and other services aren’t available, will remain without access.
The plans proposed today still requires official approval from the European Parliament but the commission hopes that it will be implemented in 2017.
More concrete copyright reform proposals are expected to follow next year. This includes updated anti-piracy measures based on the “follow the money” approach as well as various exceptions to allow broader use of copyrighted material.